In a $3M lawsuit, a woman from Ontario says that her high school running coach sexually assaulted her when she was a teen.
The teacher and the Durham District School Board both say that the claims are false.
A woman from Uxbridge, Ontario, has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against her former running coach and the Durham District School Board. She claims that a teacher sexually assaulted and abused her for years.
Edward LaRocque, the teacher, denies the claims, and the school board, which is about 65 kilometers east of Toronto, denies any responsibility for the claims.
Now that Julia Kearley is 25, she says she feels it's time to speak out.
She told, "I'm at a point where I want accountability." "I don't want to feel bad about it any longer."
So far, Kearley hasn't gone to the police, so the situation hasn't been looked into and no criminal charges have been brought. In court, none of the claims in the lawsuit have been shown to be true.
In a defense statement, LaRocque's lawyers say that the accusations are false and ask that the lawsuit be thrown out. In an email to CBC News, lawyer Andrew Max said, "The case is in court, and Mr. LaRocque will respond to these accusations there."
Separately, the school board filed a third-party claim against the plaintiff's mother, which the board says was done without its knowledge by its insurance company. It says that she is partly to blame for any abuse because she didn't protect her daughter "as was her duty as a parent or guardian." Kearley's mother denies this.
A statement of claim says that Kearley met LaRocque for the first time when she started Grade 9 at Uxbridge Secondary School in 2011. LaRocque, who coached the school's cross-country and track and field teams, was in his late 30s when she was 14.
In the fall of that year, Kearley joined the cross-country team. The lawsuit says that LaRocque started to court her right away.
The statement of claim says, "From the beginning, LaRocque praised Julia and told her how talented she was." The lawsuit says that Kearley joined the Greater Uxbridge Road Runners club outside of school at LaRocque's suggestion. This led to her practicing with LaRocque one-on-one and him driving her to practices and competitions.
The lawsuit says that LaRoque and Kearley spent more and more time together and texted back and forth over the course of several months. The lawsuit says that the text messages started out talking about running, but soon they started talking about other things.
"I really thought, especially in 9th and 10th grade, that this was someone who cared about me, and I cared about him," Kearley said in an interview.
Problems with mental health
By the time Kearley was in Grade 10, the statement of claim says, LaRocque had cut her off from her family and friends and made "comments to Julia about her body, sending her messages with pictures of women in minimal clothing and telling Julia that the women in the pictures had nice bodies and that Julia should try to be like them."
The lawsuit says that the sexual abuse of Kearley became more obvious when she was in Grade 11. At the time, schools in the U.S. and Canada were beginning to offer her scholarships, but she had to stop running for a while because of an injury.
In the time around January 2014, the lawsuit says, Julia told LaRocque that she was having a hard time mentally because she wasn't running. "She told him she was thinking about killing herself and felt very alone."
Allegations in the court documents say that at the time, LaRocque started telling Kearley that it seemed like she had been abused or assaulted before and that she was trying to hide memories of that.
He is said to have told her that he loved her "like a father" and would help her get used to being around older men. The lawsuit says that during this process, the two "hugged" in bed without clothes on to "recreate" what the sexual abuse felt like.
"Julia did what LaRocque told her to do because LaRocque was her teacher and coach and had trust, power, and authority over her," the statement of claim says.
"Slowly, the lines started to blur," Kearley told CBC News. "That's when the sexual assaults started."
Supposedly, they kept in touch until 2017.
The lawsuit says that LaRocque kissed Kearley for the first time in the spring of 2014, and he had sex with her for the first time around May of that year, when she was 16 and had never had sex with anyone before.
Lawyers for Kearley say that LaRocque continued to have sex with her regularly after that and "forced Julia to send him naked and sexual pictures and videos of herself through text messages."
In the statement of claim, it is also said that LaRocque would sometimes drive Kearley to his house in Ajax, Ontario, where they would stay the night.
"Most of the time, Julia lied to her parents and told them she was spending the weekend at her friend's house," the lawsuit says.
Kearley told CBC News that LaRocque tried to make what was going on seem like a "secret relationship." As a teenager, this made her feel very sad and confused.
She said, "He was very controlling, especially of my life."
"At that point, I'm a child, and I don't know what to do about it."
The lawsuit says that LaRocque had control over Kearley for many years. Kearley left Uxbridge to go to college in New York State in 2015, but she and LaRocque stayed in touch.
She tried to get away from the situation for the first time in the fall of 2015, but the lawsuit says she wasn't able to do so until 2017.
She told CBC News, "It took a long time to get out of it."
"It was making me fall apart. It was a very dark time when I was trying to get away and realizing how bad it was."
Damages are being sought from the coach and the school board.
In his lawsuit, Kearley is asking for $2 million in general and aggravated damages and $1 million in special damages, which he wants to split between LaRocque and the school board.
In a statement, the Durham District School Board said that it found out about the allegations when it was given the statement of claim. Since then, it has talked to Durham police and the Children's Aid Society.
The board also said that LaRocque was "removed from his duties" while an investigation was going on.
"At this time, we are not aware of any other allegations involving other students," the statement says. "We encourage anyone with information to talk to the police."
"The Durham District School Board takes it seriously when someone in a position of trust and authority is accused of abusing that trust."
In its defense statement, the board first denies that any abuse happened. It then says that, even if abuse did happen, the board did not know about it and is not responsible for anything LaRocque may have done.
But a third-party claim filed on behalf of the school board says that Kearley's mother should share some of the blame because her actions "fell below the standard of a reasonable parent/guardian in the circumstances."
In a defense statement, Kearley's mother, Stacy, denied this claim, saying that she thought LaRocque's relationship with her daughter was normal for a teacher and a student or an athlete and a coach.
"At all times that mattered, Stacy acted and treated [her daughter] as a reasonable and ordinary parent or guardian would," the statement says. "At no point did she fall below the standard of care for a reasonable parent or guardian."
When asked about the third-party proceedings, a spokesperson for the board said that its insurance company, the Ontario School Boards' Insurance Exchange, is in charge of the situation and started the claim without the board's knowledge.
Spokesperson Robert Cerjanec said that the board has asked the insurance company to stop the claim against Kearley's mother. When asked for comment, the insurance company did not respond.
"It takes courage for people who have been abused to speak up, and we think this lawsuit by the insurance company could stop families from coming forward in the future," Cerjanec said.
Getting back together with running
Kearley told CBC News that she hasn't gone to the police with her claims, but she doesn't rule out doing so in the future. She said she wanted some accountability, but she also wanted to be safe.
"It scares me. "I wasn't in a place emotionally or mentally where I thought I could handle that," she said.
"Right now, this feels right to me, but everyone works in a different way."
The head of Victim Services Toronto, Carly Kalish, said the same thing.
"People need to come forward in their own time and at their own pace, and our response can't be based on assumptions or judgments," Kalish said.
Even though the situation has affected her in a lot of ways, Kearley said that it has broken up her relationship with running.
When she first started training, she loved putting on her shoes because she had "a pure, childlike love for the sport."
"And then, all through high school, it was a strange thing. "He did that to get his way with me," she said.
Kearley said that college helped her start to fix her relationship with the sport, but that the process is still up and down.
"I still feel like I've lost something, like he took it from me."