A former student at a Yarmouth junior high school is suing over historical sexual assault allegations against her now-deceased former teacher.

Lawyer Mike Dull filed notice of action and a statement of claim against the Tri-County Regional Centre for Education in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on May 17. Dull alleged Mark Thornton sexually assaulted his client, referred to as AB. The assaults happened around 2000-2002, when AB was about 14 years old.

AB went to Yarmouth Junior High School, now called Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School. Thornton was her teacher.

“The Plaintiff states that Thornton cultivated a relationship of trust with her in his position as a teacher with the School by taking such actions including but not limited to the following: meeting with the Plaintiff on the School campus at multiple private locations, counselling the Plaintiff on self-harming behaviour, favouring the Plaintiff, and regularly checking-in on the Plaintiff’s mental health,” Dull wrote in the statement of claim.

“While in the capacity of the Plaintiff’s teacher, Thornton subjected the Plaintiff to numerous instances of sexual assault and battery. These assaults and batteries took place over the course of Thornton’s employment with the Defendant and on School grounds.”

AB reported the sexual assault to police in June 2022. The RCMP charged Thornton with sexual exploitation and sexual assault in July. At the time, 51-year-old Thornton was the principal at Plymouth School near Yarmouth.

“Yarmouth Town RCMP believe that there may be additional victims and is reaching out to offer support and encourage anyone who may have been a victim to come forward by contacting your local police or RCMP Detachment,” police wrote in a news release.

In January 2023, Thornton died at 52. The Crown withdrew the charges in February.

Lawyer alleges negligence by regional centre

Dull argued in the statement of claim that the regional centre for education is vicariously liable for Thornton’s actions. The regional centre was negligent for hiring Thornton, Dull argued. It “knew or ought to have known that Thornton had displayed pedophilic tendencies.”

The regional centre “failed to promptly and adequately, if at all, investigate allegations and suspicions of inappropriate and illegal conduct, including sexual assault and battery, by Thornton during his course of employment,” Dull wrote. And it “failed to end Thornton’s employment and remove him from a position of authority of minors when it knew, or ought to have known, that Thornton was physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally abusing minors under his supervision.”

The allegations have not been tested in court, and the regional centre has yet to file a defence.

The case will be in court next week. Dull will argue the plaintiff should be identified only as AB.

“The Applicant states that publicity will re-victimize her and impede her ability to remain integrated her community, thereby causing her irreparable harm,” Dull wrote in a filing for a confidentiality order.

“This potential harm places the administration of justice at risk; either the victim is significantly revictimized or the victim is unable to access the civil justice system to have the merits of her complaint heard.”

In the meantime, an interim order protects the identify of the plaintiff.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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