Legal costs-bullying case precedent

GoFundMe Campaign to raise $50,000 to cover the legal costs incurred by Vania and Winston Karam in a precedent setting legal case against the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board where the Board was found to be negligent in a bullying case for failing to meet the standard of care for one of their students.

Who we are: Beth Clarke and Amanda Semaan

Where we're from: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Who we are raising money for: Vania Karam is a hard-working, caring single mom of 16 year old Winston, and live-in cargiver for her elderly mom who has Alzheimers.

Our relationship to Vania: Work colleagues and friends

Campaign Organizer: Beth Clarke

How the funds will be spent:
 To reimburse Vania back for her legal costs spent fighting the School Board. Note: Vania Karam will have direct access to all funds raised by the campaign and will be withdrawing the funds raised.

How soon are the funds needed: Vania is still paying down the legal fees and aims to have them paid by 2017.

Why this means so much to us: Bullying is a serious issue. When it takes place at school and teachers ignore it, it's even more awful. Kids who complain about being bullied and are ignored often get depressed, and they even commit suicide. Kids who bully and get away with it grow up to be bullies. The cycle has to stop. And a case like this shows schools they must take action. Policies are not enough. Now, with this case, schools can be found negligent and they have a financial incentive to put a stop to bullying. What Vania did - standing up for Winston, helping him heal, getting him his power back - it made a real difference, not only to him, but for all kids, in all schools. This case changes everything for our kids.

We are thankful and grateful for all the community support and for all the funds raised in support of this cause. .. It is so important for communities to rally together to support kids affected by bullying. We are all part of the same world and it's people like Vania and Winston, who stand up for what's right, at whatever cost, that will make the world a better place for our kids.

Vania's Story: In 2011, Vania enrolled her 12 year old son Winston in grade 7 at Broadview Avenue Public School in Ottawa. Being new to the school, Winston was shy and trying to fit in. That Fall Winston started to be bullied by students he thought were his friends. They stole from him, damaged his property, pushed his face into the water fountain, shoved him into lockers, threw a basketball in his face, put him in chokeholds, verbally demeaned him and engaged in racial slurs. Winston, his mother and his grandmother, repeatedly complained to his teachers, guidance counselor, vice-principal and principal, but despite pleas for help they were ignored.

School administrators looked the other way, pandering to the bullies, essentially empowering the bullies and taking away Winston’s power. At times, Winston tried to fight back but because it was two against one, and the school staff didn’t back him up, it was a losing battle. Finally, after months of physical assaults and verbal harassment, Winston suffered a serious panic attack in front of his whole class. On the advice of his doctor, and due to his mother’s concerns that the staff at Broadview were not keeping him safe at school, Vania removed Winston from school on May 3, 2012 and had him home-schooled for the remainder of the year. The school’s conduct was egregious. At the end of the school year, it put a ridiculous comment in his report card that essentially blamed him for everything.

The following year, the school separated the two grade 7 classes into three grade 8 classes, but put Winston back in the same class the boy who had most aggressively bullied him. Feeling completely ignored, and concerned for her son’s safety, Vania and Winston moved to a new neighbourhood and enrolled him in new school. After all of this, Vania was very disheartened. She felt the school needed to be held to account and that Winston’s voice had to be heard to allow him to fully heal. Vania and Winston sued the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board in Small Claims Court claiming that the Board failed to exercise the required duty of care towards Winston and seeking damages for negligence. The school board fought back hard but ultimately, Vania and Winston won that first trial in 2014. The Board was ordered to pay general and specific damages related to home schooling, counselling and self-defence, but it appealed the ruling and did not end up paying any costs arising from that trial.

The appeal hearing took place in 2015 and was heard in a higher divisional court. Vania had to hire a lawyer, as a paralegal can only represent clients in small claims. This was costly as the fee for a lawyer was $500 per hour. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board requested the case to be thrown out but the judge ordered a re-trial. Due to the precedent-setting nature of the case, the judge wanted a stronger ruling to determine when and how a school board can be found negligent in meeting its standard of care in a case of school bullying.

The re-trial was for three days in May 2016 and required Winston to again go on the witness stand and recount his story. The Superior Court in Ontario ruled that the Board breached its standard of care owed to Winston and that he and his mother were entitled to compensation of $3,086 for direct expenses related to Winston’s home schooling. Vania’s legal costs, totaling $54,821 were not covered as part of the judgement, and she is still paying them off. This case is the first reported legal case in North America (Canada and the U.S.) where a school board has been found liable in negligence for harm caused to a child, because it failed to protect a child, Winston Karam, from the bullying actions of other students.

They won. Winston's voice was finally heard and the school was held to account. Media coverage is below.

Ottawa Citizen:
http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/from-target-to-team-member-how-a-bullied-teen-found-redemption-at-the-wellington-diner

National Observer: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/07/21/his-ottawa-school-failed-stop-racist-bullying-then-they-blamed-him  and the videos: http://www.nationalobserver.com/video

CBC Now or Never: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/nowornever/standing-up-to-our-bullies-1.3814248/sue-the-school-board-that-s-what-this-bullied-canadian-teen-did-and-won-1.3819537 

CBC All in a Day (radio interview): http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2692336651

CBC TV coverage: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/730708547932

 CBC news article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/winston-vania-karam-bullying-ocdsb-broadview-1.3691086

1310 Radio:  http://www.1310news.com/2016/08/03/the-carol-anne-meehan-show-august-2-200-300/

Kitchissipppi Times:  https://issuu.com/ greatrivermedia/docs/ kitc20160929 

Metro Ottawa:  http://www.metronews.ca/news/ottawa/2016/07/22/ottawa-student-wins-bullying-case-against-school-board.html

 Ottawa Community News:  http://www.ottawacommunitynews.com/news-story/6773614-family-wins-precedent-setting-case-against-public-school-board/

 York Anti-Bullying Coalition:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/justice-finally-served-karen-sebben?published=t

 Ottawa Citizen: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/mcleod-systemic-racism-it-happens-in-Ottawa  (provided a link to the national observer story).

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_bullying#Legislation_and_court_rulings  (in Canada section) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying#School_bullying  (third paragraph under Canada)

This precedent-setting bullying case against a school has received attention in many countries, including the U.S. (Texas, Florida and California), the U.K., Australia, and even Spain. The legal precedent paves the way for future legal cases based in negligence against a school board and it will put schools on notice that they must take action when a student is being bullied. Vania and Winston hope that the precedent will force a cultural shift so no child has to go through what Winston did.

Donations (0)

  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 29 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $300 
    • 29 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 30 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $25 
    • 30 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 31 mos

Organizer 

Vania Karam 
Organizer
Gloucester, ON
  • #1 fundraising platform

    People have raised more money on GoFundMe than anywhere else. Learn more

  • GoFundMe Guarantee

    In the rare case that something isn’t right, we will refund your donation. Learn more

  • Expert advice, 24/7

    Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more