Former student of North Vancouver teacher accused of sexual assault says he is 'ridding himself of shame'
Warning: This story contains graphic details.
In the sunny boardroom of a North Vancouver law firm, Dennis Cooper flips through faded photos from his childhood — two class portraits taken in 1977 at Upper Lynn elementary school, and various shots of him at 11-years old, mastering ski jumps in Penticton and Vernon.
The photos from the ski trip were taken by his former teacher, Brian Moore, who wrote the date and location on the back, before giving the pictures to Cooper's mother.
On Aug. 4, over 40 years after those trips, Cooper became the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against the retired teacher, alleging that Moore groomed and sexually assaulted him and others over the course of several field trips throughout their Grade 6 year.
The lawsuit doesn't specify the number of victims, but says the class action is open to all male students taught by Moore at Upper Lynn Elementary school.
The same day that the notice of civil claim was filed, North Vancouver RCMP issued a press release saying a retired 82-year-old North Vancouver elementary school teacher was arrested at his home for seven counts of indecent assault against seven students in the '70s and '80s. The statement asked any other potential victims to come forward.
While the press release from RCMP doesn't identify the teacher by name, his age, the years that he taught, and the name of the elementary school match the details of the filing.
No charges have been brought against Moore, and none of the allegations have been proven in court. Moore declined to speak to CBC News about the allegations against him, and his legal team has asked for an extension to respond to the civil claim.
For Cooper, now 56 and married with three adult children, the arrest and filing of the proposed class action suit marked the culmination of weeks of raw conversations with former classmates, who until this summer had never shared their accounts of their Grade 6 year.
"'I've probably shed more tears in the past two months than in my entire adult life," said Cooper, who is the only named plaintiff in the class action.
"There's a lot of personal guilt and shame around not having done anything about it for so long."
The notice of claim filed in civil court details an alleged pattern of behaviour where Moore would take students on day trips and overnight trips as part of an "Outdoor School" program, where the inappropriate behaviour would take place.
The document describes an excursion to Deep Cove to go water skiing, during which Moore allegedly asked Cooper, then 11, to not wear underwear or clothes under his wet suit, and then inappropriately touched Cooper on his genitals while he was putting it on. On another Grade 6 trip to go swimming at Simon Fraser University, Cooper alleges that Moore instructed the students to bathe with him naked.
In another instance, Moore allegedly offered driving lessons to his students in his personal vehicle, a blue Barracuda, where he would ask them to sit on his lap.
Later in the Grade 6 year, Moore arranged to take students on ski trips to Penticton and Vernon. During the trip he allegedly "demonstrated masturbation on himself" and ejaculated in front of the students, before seeking oral sex from Cooper, which Cooper refused.
Finally, it describes a camping trip to Schuswap Lake in the summer after Cooper's Grade 6 year. Moore allegedly instructed Cooper and others to swim with him naked, and that night, climbed into his sleeping bag.
The notice of civil claim also names the Board of Trustees of School District 44 in the filing, writing that it "[failed] to take reasonable steps to protect the class when they were vulnerable minors," and failed to warn other students when allegations were made against Moore.
In a statement, the school district said that "an allegation of criminal conduct of this nature is appropriately unsettling."
"As this former employee's file included no record of misconduct as an employee, and as his employment with the school district ended over 40 years ago, this situation is considered a matter for the RCMP. We would like to assure the community that we have cooperated fully with the RCMP as they conduct their investigation"
Cooper said he and several others were inspired to come forward after watching YouTube clips from Leaving Neverland, a 2019 documentary in which two men allege they were sexually abused as children by the American singer Michael Jackson.
"[The trips] were the best time we ever had. It was our Neverland. We were getting those adventures that all of us wanted at that age," he said.
"And then on the other side there was this undercurrent of guilt and shame about the secretive side of those activities."
A secret kept for 40 years
For Cooper and the other alleged victims, the decision to come forward has been marked by many firsts: the first time discussing their experiences with each other, and the first time discussing it with parents, wives, partners, and children.
But Cooper, who has built a career in sales since his time at Upper Lynn Elementary 40 years ago, said his experiences have affected him throughout his life, leading him to struggle with anger management and in his personal relationships.
"There's a poor foundation in my house, there's quicksand under my feet sometimes. When something goes wrong in my life, the quicksand comes through," he said.
The notice of civil claim says that as an apparent result of the alleged abuse, former students suffered from alcoholism, addiction, academic failure, marital problems. It says two former students died by suicide.
"It's tragic, and some guys are still very messed up," said Cooper, who hopes others with similar experiences will feel they can come forward.
"If they've been carrying something in a dark corner of their heart, [I hope] that they're able to shed some light on it and let it go."