In Grade 11, Laurie Howat had a huge crush on one of the most popular guys at Ottawa’s Bell High School.
They spent as much time together as possible, before school, after school and over lunch.
“He and I were connected at the hip,” recalled Howat, now 31.
Other girls were prettier and smarter, but he had picked her.
“I was head over heels for him. It made me feel so unique and special that he’d seemed to have chosen me out of everyone.”
Howat’s mother had died of cancer a couple of years earlier, and the relationship provided the emotional stability she needed. Finally, she didn’t feel so alone.
Often, their encounters would take place in the private office attached to the school’s band room. By the time Howat was 16, they were engaging in fondling, masturbation and oral sex on a daily basis.
He was Tim Stanutz, her music teacher.
Howat said it wasn’t until a decade after she graduated that she realized how unhealthy that relationship had been.
“The difference in age was 28 years between myself and Mr. Stanutz,” she said. “Thinking back then, I knew it was wrong, but the reason I thought it was wrong was because he was married, not because he was my teacher.”
In 2016, when Howat finally told her therapist about her former music teacher, she couldn’t have known the firestorm she was about to set off, or the web of secrets it would unravel.
By law, her therapist had a duty to report Howat’s story to the Children’s Aid Society and to police.
A month later, in May 2016, Howat filed a complaint against Stanutz with the sexual assault and child abuse unit of the Ottawa Police Service. Stanutz, an award-winning teacher and band leader, was charged with sexual assault and suspended from his job.
Within hours of the teacher’s arrest hitting the news, a second woman, four years older than Howat, came forward with a similar story, leading to more charges against Stanutz.
Then the floodgates opened.
Dozens of former students, men and women in their late 20s to late 50s, began sharing their stories of sexual abuse at Bell, raising questions about what exactly had gone on inside the west-end school, and how it had been allowed to continue for so long.