A Vancouver Island teacher who was falsely accused of raping and torturing a student is seeking compensation after the girl's claims were found to be based on a popular TV crime show.
Donald Barber was suspended in 2012 after the then-Grade 10 student came forward saying the veteran teacher had been sadistically assaulting her for years.
The girl reported being raped, tortured, and burned to the point of scarring, according to an arbitration decision last year. Diary entries describe her alleged encounters with Barber, including one where she said she was sold to a uniformed police officer for sex.
Barber was arrested, then suspended. But charges were never laid due to a lack of evidence.
The Qualicum school district hired lawyer Marli Rusen to look into the case. Her 2013 investigation supported the student's allegations, and recommended that Barber be banned from the school district altogether. Soon after, Barber was fired.
The longtime teacher with a spotless record fought for his job. Ultimately, an arbitration hearing uncovered that all of the student's claims were lifted from the TV show "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." The girl testified that she had watched every episode of the drama at least three times, and some as many as 10 times.
During the arbitration, the student outlined one incident where she said she lay down in a hole Barber dug and he shovelled dirt over her. Randy Noonan, a lawyer for the teacher's union, pointed out several "Law & Order" episodes, including one where a kidnapped girl is buried alive.
The student responded that the similarities between her stories and the show was just a coincidence.
In the end, arbitrator Joan McEwan noted that the "unbelievable" claims came from "a very troubled young person" against a "decent, hard-working man."
"The Internet and media provided the student with everything she needed to construct a case that resulted in two years of unimaginable hardship to the teacher," wrote arbitrator Joan McEwan in her final report. "The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that the teacher is the victim of false allegations."
Barber is now seeking damages from Rusen, saying the lawyer was negligent in her "maliciously published" report. In a civil lawsuit filed in February, he says her defamatory work resulted in this humiliation and damaged reputation.
Court hearings continue next week on Vancouver Island.
Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said he couldn't comment as the proceedings are ongoing, but did say in a statement that "the BCTF works hard to ensure all of our members have access to due process.”
McGill University education Prof. Jon Bradley told the National Post that Barber's case is the first he's seen of a teacher suing over a student's untrue claims.
“It’s long overdue,” he said. “Too often teachers are thrown under the bus.”
In 2008, Quebec gym teacher Henri Fournier was charged with sexually touching 17 girls. Nearly two years later, he was acquitted but he struggled to rebuild his reputation, reported CBC News.
He spent 31 years on his teaching career, but it took "about a weekend to destroy" everything, Fournier told the outlet.
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