Skip to main content

Asbury College in Ottawa.Blair Gable

Ashbury College is an elite private school sitting on 12 leafy acres in Ottawa's Rockcliffe Park, with a list of alumni that boasts the likes of former prime minister John Turner.

The school charges more than $18,000 a year for day students and $42,000 for boarders, and it has the sterling reputation to match. But now the institution founded in 1891 is facing allegations that it covered up the sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy - and then forced the student and his two siblings to leave the school when their parents wouldn't sign a document attesting to the "good faith" of Ashbury officials.

By all accounts, the incident occurred on a class trip to Boston two years ago. The 16-year-old boy, identified by the initials J.W., was in his hotel room when four classmates entered, held him in a leg lock, grabbed his genitals and prodded his anus. The incident was filmed on a video camera and uploaded to a computer, but has not been seen publicly.

Ashbury expelled the four students one month later. But according to a lawsuit filed in an Ottawa court last week, J.W. "experienced the additional victimization" of being kicked out as well. "[J.W., his sister and their brother]were effectively expelled from Ashbury and left to conclude that they were receiving the same treatment [as the four students]involved in the assault, who were also expelled from Ashbury," says the statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court by the W. family.

Ashbury has yet to respond in court to the lawsuit, which contains unproven allegations.

In a statement, the college's headmaster Tam Matthews said: "The school has thoroughly investigated the affair, taken disciplinary action where appropriate, and co-operated with the authorities. It fully supports the actions of the teachers on the trip. It regrets the outcome for the victim and his family, but will vigorously defend the lawsuit."

According to the W. family's statement, Ashbury officials reacted to the 2007 incident by trying to "protect themselves, their personal and institutional reputations and their financial interests."

The lawsuit states that on the morning after the assault, an Ashbury teacher left Boston on the first flight to Ottawa with two of the alleged assailants, as well as the videotape of the assault, without notifying police or border authorities.

"Notwithstanding their knowledge that the assault was reportable as a crime or crimes, the Ashbury defendants took steps to remove [two of the alleged assailants]from the USA along with the [video]evidence," the lawsuit says.

An Ashbury teacher went on to call J.W.'s home in Ottawa the morning after the incident and allegedly described it as "minor." Another teacher allegedly urged J.W.'s mother to "consider the feelings" of two of the assailants' parents before calling police.

But after learning details of the attack from Ashbury's headmaster, J.W.'s mother called Ottawa police, while his father called Boston police.

U.S. authorities investigated, and two of the alleged perpetrators are facing trial on charges of indecent assault and battery in the United States.

J.W.'s parents are critical of the fact that the school took one month to expel the alleged assailants, saying the delay exposed J.W. and his siblings "to a poisoned climate of blame, humiliation and embarrassment."

After these and other disagreements over the handling of the incident, J.W.'s parents learned in March, 2008, that Ashbury was delaying acceptance of their children for the following school year.

A series of discussions ensued, and the parents said they were willing to adhere to some of the conditions requested by the college, including releasing school officials from any future action.

However, they refused to sign a document which stated that Ashbury "acted in good faith and in accordance with the standards of the teaching profession" in handling the case. As a result, according to the lawsuit, their two sons and a daughter were forced to leave the school.

The W. family is seeking more than $150,000 in damages, and reimbursement of the nearly $20,000 a year that they paid for the education of each of their children at Ashbury College.

Interact with The Globe