Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Teachers defend response to Ottawa students’ sex assault

A teacher at an elite Ottawa private school told a disciplinary hearing Tuesday why she didn't call police when a 16-year-old boy was sexually assaulted by schoolmates in a hotel room on a school trip to Boston.

Alyssa Novick is one of two teachers at Ashbury College who are accused of misconduct by the Ontario College of Teachers.

If they're found guilty, Ms. Novick and Ian Middleton could lose their teaching certificates.

Story continues below advertisement

The two are denying allegations that they failed to notify the student's parents immediately and refused a request from the parents to call the Boston police.

Ms. Novick is also accused of discouraging the student from going to police and falsely telling the parents that he didn't want to do so.

At the disciplinary hearing, Ms. Novick recalled the night more than four years ago.

"I think I have been sexually assaulted," the student told Mr. Middleton, Ms. Novick said.

She recounted how she, Mr. Middleton and the two other teachers on the November, 2007, history trip spent from about 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. interviewing the students involved and calling their headmaster.

The boy told the teachers that a fellow student held him down while another violated him, a third videotaped the attack and a fourth sat on the bed and watched.

The main perpetrator – who pleaded guilty in Boston to assault and battery and was sentenced to four years probation – tried to pass the incident off as a joke, Ms. Novick said.

Story continues below advertisement

He and the student who held the boy down were sent home on the next flight to Ottawa, Ms. Novick said.

Headmaster Tam Matthews told the teachers he would call Ottawa police, Ms. Novick said.

The teachers told the boy he should call his parents, but he said he didn't want to because he was embarrassed, a third teacher who was on the trip testified.

The next morning, the teachers tried again to get the student to call his mother, but he didn't want to, saying she would "freak out," the third teacher told the hearing.

After the boy spoke to his mother, she and Ms. Novick exchanged calls throughout that afternoon – and the mother was upset, Ms. Novick said.

"She wanted to show [the boy] she wouldn't let these boys get away with this," Ms. Novick testified.

Story continues below advertisement

After the boy spoke to his parents, the father started making arrangements to fly to Boston to take his son to the police there, but the boy didn't want him to because it would "disrupt the trip," Ms. Novick said.

"I'm fine," the third teacher overheard the boy say on the phone. "Stop it. Stop it. Stop it."

However, the teacher was not sure the boy was speaking with his parents.

Ms. Novick did not, as is alleged, try to stop the parents from going to the Boston police, she said, rather she was trying to ascertain what was happening with the father, who did not fly down.

Ms. Novick said she asked the mother why she wanted the teacher to take her son to Boston police against her son's wishes. She also told the mother that she wasn't convinced she should take the other two boys without their parents to a police station in Boston to be arrested, she said.

Only after several phone calls did the mother say with certainty that she wanted the teachers to go to police, Ms. Novick said.

They again called their headmaster, who said he would call Boston police, even though, as the college's counsel noted, the headmaster was visiting his mother in Peterborough, Ont.

The disciplinary hearing is scheduled to sit two more days in February.

The victim's parents have sued the students involved in the assault, the school and the teachers, alleging the situation was handled inappropriately. The teachers and the school have filed statements of defence, the hearing was told Tuesday. None of the civil allegations have been proven in court.

The student who was convicted in Boston apologized in court at the time, saying he used to be "somewhat of a bully." But the victim suggested in a statement to that court that his attacker's words were insincere.

"You have done something horrible and sick, and you must pay for it," the boy said.

Ms. Novick told the disciplinary hearing that the case has had a "terrible impact" on her family – including on her two children who attended Ashbury – and on her marriage, which ended after 16 years in the aftermath of the Boston trip.

"The truth is that, I know this may sound corny, but all I ever wanted to be was a teacher," she said. "It's not just a job for me. It's who I am."

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to