Chapter II: The DeLuca Affair
Criminal Proceedings Against DeLuca
In 1994, Ken DeLuca was charged with 41 offences involving 21 complainants. All but one of those complainants were former students of the Sault Ste. Marie School Board ranging from age 10 to 18; the other complainant was a School Board employee.
On April 9, 1996, in accordance with a plea negotiation entered into with the Crown, DeLuca pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, 14 offences before the Ontario Court (General Division) in Sault Ste. Marie: six counts of indecent assault, seven counts of sexual assault, and one count of counselling a young person to touch for a sexual purpose. These convictions related to 13 of the original complainants.
In sentencing him to a prison term of 40 months, Madam Justice Pardu stated the following about DeLuca:
This accused can only be described as a sexual predator, and he has betrayed the trust of his students, their parents, his colleagues and the community.
A number of DeLuca's survivors, and their families, initiated civil actions against DeLuca, the School Board, various School Board officials, and others. The plaintiffs claimed that the School Board, and certain officials and employees, failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the misconduct when they knew, or should have known, of the assaults, harassment, and invasions of privacy by DeLuca.
These civil actions were settled in 1998, resulting in a payment by the School Board of monetary damages to the plaintiffs. Following the settlement of all of the civil actions, the School Board published a public apology in the local press in November, 1998. The apology stated, in part:
The Board recognizes that no financial recompense can ever make up for the trauma and humiliation which these women have endured. The Board recognizes, as well, that had the officials involved acted in a timely and effective way when these assaults were first brought to their attention, much of this suffering would have been prevented.
The Board of Trustees, recognizes that some of its senior officials and employees entrusted with the safety of its students, failed in the discharge of their responsibilities. For this, the Board offers its most sincere and heartfelt apology to the victims and their families. . .
DeLuca's History of Sexual Misconduct
The Report fully documents DeLuca's history of abuse and harassment which extended over five schools within the former Sault Ste. Marie District Roman Catholic School Board. DeLuca's sexual abuse of his many victims is clear and the substance of his conduct is now, belatedly, admitted. However, DeLuca has not acknowledged or been questioned about some of the allegations made against him.
The abuse reported by DeLuca's survivors included kissing students; inserting his tongue into students' mouths; rubbing his body against the students; touching or rubbing students' breasts; having a student hold his penis while class was in session; lying on top of students and rubbing his body against theirs; touching students' genitals; rubbing his pelvis against students; biting a student's chest and vagina through her clothes; and intercourse (with one student). The adult survivor disclosed that DeLuca grabbed her and, with his knees splayed, pulled her tight into his body while he made rutting noises with his pelvis against her private parts.
Survivors also maintained the following acts of harassment by DeLuca: pointing to the bulge in his trousers, and commenting to a student, "this is what you do to me"; telling a student, "you're a cock teaser when I thought you would be a cock pleaser"; asking a student if she ever "sucked on a man's dick"; suggesting that a student list her assets on an application form as "a nice ass, nice tits and a good lay"; constantly staring, smiling and winking at a student; commenting on how beautiful or pretty students were, or that they had a "nice ass" or "big chest" or "big boobs"; commenting that he intended to teach a student how to kiss or that he wanted to be the first male to kiss a student; indicating to a student that she would get high marks if she slept with him; encouraging a student to take his class, assuring her that she would do well and her marks would be high; asking a student if she was "horny"; noting that a student was wearing a bra and attempting to guess its size; and threatening to deny a student permission to go on a school field trip, if she didn't go into a supply room, for an inappropriate purpose, with him.
Conclusions Respecting the School Board
As earlier reflected, the Report concludes that the response of the School Board and its employees to complaints or disclosures made by the victims was completely inadequate and, indeed, harmful. Detailed comments on the conduct of officials and employees of the School Board are contained in italicized passages in Chapter II. However, certain recurrent themes are developed in the chapter's conclusions.
(i) Failure to Provide or Check References
For the most part, when DeLuca was transferred to a new school, no inquiries were made of his former school in order to obtain any background on him, even when the new principal admittedly heard about problems DeLuca had had at his former school. When inquiries were made, School Board members and, in particular, DeLuca's former principals, failed to provide details of complaints that had been received regarding DeLuca's inappropriate behaviour towards female students. Had proper reference checks been conducted when DeLuca was transferred between schools, his abusive behaviour may have been prevented years earlier.
(ii) Failure to Maintain Records
The School Board and its principals failed to maintain adequate records of complaints against DeLuca. Despite numerous allegations of abuse or improper conduct by DeLuca, most complaints were not documented, and the few records that referred to allegations of abuse were not placed in DeLuca's personnel file. When the School Board did document complaints regarding DeLuca, the documentation was inadequate and tended to describe the allegations in innocuous terms so that the nature of the allegations would not have been apparent to anyone who reviewed DeLuca's file. As a result, when DeLuca transferred to a new school, the school administration lacked the proper context within which to evaluate complaints it received about DeLuca.
(iii) Reaction to Disclosure
The School Board repeatedly failed to appropriately receive and act upon complaints regarding DeLuca disclosed by students, and failed to lend any support to students who disclosed allegations of abuse. The School Board's attitude created a climate which inhibited, rather than fostered, disclosure. According to the survivors, the School Board responded to student complaints in one or more of the following ways:
(a) Denial of Complaints
The School Board most often denied the legitimacy of allegations against DeLuca. Such complaints were typically dismissed as fabrication or rumour. Some students were directly accused of lying. Others were prevented from even voicing their complaints about DeLuca by warnings that they had better be "absolutely certain" that their complaints were legitimate, suggesting that the School Board's assumption was that their complaints were unfounded and would not be believed.
(b) Minimization of Complaints Received
The School Board minimized the complaints it received from students. Allegations were reportedly dismissed as "puppy love" or as just infatuation. Parents recall that their attempts to address concerns about DeLuca were resisted, and the School Board's reaction was to diminish the seriousness of their complaints and dismiss the parents as being over-protective.
(c) Blaming the Victims
Often, the victim was blamed for DeLuca's behaviour. One victim recalls being told that DeLuca had done nothing wrong. Several were told that they would be to blame if DeLuca lost his job, and that their allegations could ruin his career. Some girls were forced to leave the school after they complained that DeLuca had made advances towards them.
(d) Failure to Investigate
The School Board did not properly investigate allegations from students, nor did it report the allegations to the appropriate authorities. This is particularly apparent in cases where the Board had previously received complaints about DeLuca.
(e) Threats and Intimidation
Often students who complained were called into the principal's office and made to confront DeLuca with their allegations. This served to intimidate the students and encourage recantation. In addition, several parents allege that members of the Board and/or DeLuca, in the presence of school officials, warned them against pursuing their complaints, threatened that they could face a lawsuit for slander and that they would lose any action they might bring since they did not have the financial resources available to the Board or to DeLuca through his union. Students were also allegedly threatened with expulsion and criminal charges. If these and other allegations are accurate, they obviously constitute a further inappropriate response to students' complaints.
(f) Ill-motivated or Colourable Conduct
The Report reflects that inadequacies in the Board's reaction to complaints against DeLuca may have represented some misguided notion by some officials of their powers and responsibilities. On the other hand, another inference is available on the evidence. A number of Board officials or employees may have been disinterested in exposing DeLuca's suspected abuse. It might be inferred that this is the real reason why complaints were dismissed or minimized; alleged abuse and harassment were characterized as misunderstandings or personality conflicts; and why inaction was rationalized on the basis of insufficient evidence. These officials or employees may have suspected DeLuca's abuse and refrained from making further inquiries out of loyalty for a colleague or concern for the reputation of their school system. Or, their conduct may have been coloured by their considerations. What cannot be disputed, the Report concludes, is that the best interests of the complainants were not given paramount consideration. Little thought was given to the ongoing risk to other students in DeLuca's classes.
Impact of Abuse on DeLuca's Survivors
The trauma suffered by these women as children has cast a shadow over their lives, causing varying degrees of disruption and emotional distress, including low self-esteem, depression, nightmares, difficulty in developing meaningful and healthy relationships, inability to trust others, flashbacks, alienation from parents and other family members and an inability to concentrate. These consequences continue for some to the present time. DeLuca's sexual abuse and sexual harassment, together with the humiliation and shame attendant on his behaviour, were hard enough to endure without the added insult of being disbelieved and disregarded by teachers, principals and School Board officials.