Retired Ottawa teacher sanctioned for sexual abuse of student in 1990s

·3 min read
High school running champion Mary Jane Richards is seen here with coach Peter Des Brisay as they embrace at one of her track meets in the 1990s. (Submitted - image credit)
High school running champion Mary Jane Richards is seen here with coach Peter Des Brisay as they embrace at one of her track meets in the 1990s. (Submitted - image credit)

Retired Ottawa teacher and running coach Peter Des Brisay has lost his teaching certificate after a disciplinary panel with the Ontario College of Teachers found him guilty of professional misconduct stemming from the sexual abuse of a former student in the late 1990s.

The hearing held Thursday came almost three years after Mary Jane Richards filed a formal complaint to the college, which governs and regulates the province's teaching profession.

The college issued a notice of hearing last June listing the allegations against Des Brisay.

Richards, who attended Bell High School and was a three-time national cross-country running champion, described her years of sexual abuse by her teacher and running coach in a CBC investigation last year.

Des Brisay has never faced criminal charges in this case.

A formal statement presented to the college's disciplinary panel and agreed to by Des Brisay details years of grooming and sexual exploitation Richards endured during her time at Bell between 1990 and 1996.

Richards attended the virtual hearing and read a victim impact statement, but Des Brisay did not attend, nor did he provide any comment. He was represented by a lawyer.

"I know my abuser is not going to take any responsibility. I've known that for a long time," Richards said after the hearing.

Submitted by Mary Jane Richards
Submitted by Mary Jane Richards

'He preyed on her'

Des Brisay started coaching Richards when she was 13 and in Grade 9.

What had started as something akin to a father-daughter relationship eventually crossed the line to include inappropriate massages, explicit emails and sexual intercourse.

Danielle Miller, a lawyer representing the college, told the hearing the facts in the agreed statement support the finding of misconduct.

Miller explained the college and its rules against sexual abuse didn't actually exist when the misconduct took place, so the panel could not make an official finding of "sexual abuse." She did say Des Brisay's calculated and manipulative actions could be qualified as sexual exploitation and abuse.

"He preyed on her," said Miller. "If he'd shown regard for her welfare he would have controlled his desires."

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

The disciplinary panel handed down the toughest sanctions possible: an oral reprimand and the revocation of Des Brisay's teaching certificate. Des Brisay retired from teaching in 2020.

In her victim impact statement, Richards said she could write "hundreds of pages and never adequately describe the toll it has taken, or how much it changed the trajectory of my life."

She described the impact of the abuse, saying she has trouble developing healthy relationships and trusting people, especially men.

"I completely lost my equilibrium and had overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, grief, betrayal, humiliation, and anger. For many years after the relationship, I suffered from extremely poor self-worth, because I saw myself as despicable, disposable and worthless," said Richards.

In an interview after the hearing, she said she's relieved it's over.

"My goals in doing this were accountability and harm reduction," said Richards.

"He's getting an oral reprimand and the harm reduction is the revocation of his licence. He can't ever teach again, so I feel satisfied."

Richards, who is now a lawyer in Ottawa, also works with other survivors of childhood sexual abuse, working toward better safeguards for students in schools across the country. She came to CBC with her story after a CBC investigation and podcast exposed other abuse cases at Bell High School from the 1970s through the 2000s.

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