Teacher ordered to pay $226,000 after sucker-punching security guard 13 years ago

A veteran Shawnigan Lake private school teacher has been ordered to pay $226,000 to a security guard he “sucker-punched” in a drunken assault more than 13 years ago, according to a Supreme Court ruling last week.

In the civil ruling, teacher Ralph Mackay Fraser was ordered to compensate Andrew Thompson for punching him in an unprovoked attack at a Vancouver hotel on Feb. 17, 2008, that sidelined the young man’s plans to become an RCMP officer.

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Justice Robin Baird called it a “thoroughly disgraceful incident” in his March 26 judgment.

“If the defendant is a person of any conscience, he will be immobilised by shame every time he thinks of it,” Baird wrote. “I would emphasise that the plaintiff was barely older than the students, most of them full-time boarders, who are committed by their parents to the defendant’s care every day of the school year. I am amazed that he was not fired from his employment.”

Thirteen years ago, Thompson was a 21-year-old security guard at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, and Fraser was a 50-something teacher at Shawnigan Lake School, where he continues to work.

Fraser had been at a banquet where he had “too much to drink,” according to the judgment. Afterward, he and others, including the headmaster of the Shawnigan Lake School, went to the hotel’s lounge bar, where Fraser was involved in a “scuffle” with other bar patrons.

Thompson was escorting Fraser from the bar when Fraser “sucker-punched [him] in the face, badly and permanently damaging the bony structure around his left eye,” according to court documents. Fraser attempted to flee but was apprehended by hotel staff, who held him until police arrived.

Thompson required emergency facial surgery. Metallic gear was fused into his facial bones and there is a screw directly beneath his left eye “that he can feel with his finger and causes a great deal of pain on incidental contact,” Baird wrote in his judgment.

Fraser in 2008 pleaded guilty in criminal court to assault causing bodily harm — which is punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment — and given a conditional discharge.

“He was dealt with extremely leniently,” Baird wrote. “Part of the reason for this, I have no doubt, was the understanding that eventually he would have to answer for his misconduct in a civil lawsuit and, in all likelihood, pay the plaintiff a sizeable sum in damages.”

In awarding the damages, Baird called Thompson highly intelligent, honest and hard-working and accepted his claim that this injury forced him to abandon his goal of becoming an RCMP constable, a goal the judge said was “eminently achievable” before the attack.

Thompson represented Canada at international karate competitions and his mother is a civilian member of the RCMP in Prince George. He attended RCMP youth academy camps, had corrective laser eye surgery to allow him to serve, and hoped to work as a patrol member and investigator on the way to serving on the Emergency Response Team. “He told me that his goal in life was to help people when they needed it most,” Baird wrote.

Instead, he attended a university in New York for specialized training in criminal justice issues and landed a high-paying job as an investigator with a New York law firm.

“He testified that, if his facial injury could be magically healed, and the hardware in his facial bones could be removed, he would submit another application for RCMP recruitment immediately,” Baird wrote. “His present employment is satisfactory, but it is not what he wanted to do with his life. To this day he feels a keen regret and even bitterness about this. I do not blame him.”

Thompson was awarded $60,000 for damages and $166,000 for loss of income earning capacity.

No punitive damages were ordered considering Fraser took responsibility for his behaviour by pleading guilty in criminal court and admitting liability in civil court.

The court document notes that no one involved in the brief trial March 1 and 2 was able to explain the “extraordinary” delay in the case.

Richard Lamont, head of school at Shawnigan Lake School, called the 2008 incident troubling.

“The school is deeply committed to the safety and well-being of its students, and we take any matter involving the conduct of a staff member extremely seriously,” he said, noting that the assault took place off school property and did not involve any students.

The former head of school and administration were aware of the incident, and reviewed it at the time, Lamont said. “There has been no repeat of incidents like this, to our knowledge,” he said. “However, we are reviewing the issue in the fresh light of [the] ruling.”

Fraser also shared a message last week with Shawnigan Lake School members.

“Some of you will know of the unfortunate event of 2008,” he wrote. “It was resolved by the courts, the Ministry for Public Safety, B.C. College of Teachers and the school administration at the time. Since the event, I have felt deep remorse and will continue to do so for the rest of my career.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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