Pretty, popular and precocious, Kelly Schneider was an “it” girl at Calgary’s John Ware School, a junior high school in the city’s suburban southwest. As the only child of working parents, she was unusually independent for her age, eager for the adults in her life to see her as mature and capable. That desire for approval sometimes left her racked with self-doubt and anxiety, especially as she entered adolescence. “Big boobs, big eyes, blonde hair,” she recalls. “But I hated myself.”
By 1989, when she was 14, she had developed bulimia. That same year, too busy with her hectic social life to focus on her studies, she was held back to repeat Grade 8. The bright side? She’d redo the year with Mr. Gregory—or, as his colleagues thought of him, “Mr. Popularity.”
Michael Gregory wasn’t the kind of teacher kids avoided in the halls. Rather, they fell into his orbit. When Schneider joined his homeroom, Gregory was in his mid-20s. He had taught for just three years—math, science and outdoor education—but had already developed a cult of personality as a relatable role model who could speak to kids in their own language. He sported hoodies and shorts in class, and was notorious for his raunchy humour and outrageous behaviour, which Schneider experienced firsthand as his new teacher’s pet.
Gregory nicknamed Schneider “Canyon Meadows”—a double entendre playing on her well-developed body and Meadows, her surname at the time. His attention wasn’t just verbal, either. During one volleyball practice, she says, Gregory and a gym teacher carried her to the showers and drenched her, fully clothed. Another time, she says, he tossed a bikini top at her during an exam and teased her: “Next time you’re at my house, pick up after yourself.” She was embarrassed and confused—at that point, she hadn’t been to his house—but she was proud to think he might see her as more woman than girl. The confusion drew her closer to him, as she focused on earning his attention and avoiding his disappointment. With the benefit of 33 years of hindsight, Schneider now believes her poor self-esteem and rebellious spirit made her an easy mark for his advances—including, soon enough, inappropriate touching.
At first it was a hand on her shoulder in the halls, then a tender tap on her back while she cleaned chalkboards, and eventually a stroke of her leg as she sat in his truck, making runs to Mountain Equipment Co-op to buy supplies for his outdoor-education program.
Gregory lived in Haysboro, a neighbourhood not far from John Ware School. Because he kept outdoor-ed equipment at home, he had an excuse to bring students there, including Schneider. The first time she peered into his personal life, her body tingled. There’s his couch, she thought. There’s his kitchen. Those are the stairs to his bedroom. There’s his wife’s high heels by the front door. That confused her, because Gregory had given her the impression he was getting a divorce. “She needs to get those cleared out when she leaves,” she recalls him saying. The situation felt sneaky, too personal, yet it was exhilarating to imagine her crush going somewhere.
Schneider began spending much more of her free time with Gregory. “I definitely thought that I was his girlfriend,” she says. She can’t recall when they first had sex; she’s blocked those memories. But occasionally she finds her day-to-day life interrupted by a flash of memory: his bare skin, or the smell of his body, especially when she hears the John Denver songs he played when they were together.
Her doubts about the relationship began to grow when he asked her to go to a Gordon Lightfoot concert with him, presenting her with the tickets on his desk. She had no idea what kind of excuse she’d have to make to dress up and leave her house at night to go out with her teacher. She couldn’t bring herself to lie to her parents, but felt he was pushing her to do so.
Though she doesn’t recall exactly how the relationship began, she remembers clearly how it ended, in Grade 9. One day, while dropping her at home, Gregory asked to speak with her parents alone. She had no idea what he might want to talk to them about, but they went inside and he spoke to her parents while she waited in the kitchen.
After he left, her parents were visibly upset. They wouldn’t say what he’d told them, but she had a feeling it wasn’t true. She went to her room and filled a cardboard box with gifts from Gregory, which she’d been hiding, including jewellery, mixtapes and a poetry collection bookmarked with a childhood picture of him. She returned to the living room and told a watered-down version of the truth: that she was in a romantic relationship with her teacher.
Gregory, it turned out, had lied to her parents, saying she’d been bringing boys home during lunch hour for sex. Schneider thinks he sensed her growing doubts and hoped to muddy her credibility with a fake story.
Schneider’s parents believed her and brought the box of mementoes to school. A senior administrator took their complaint. Schneider doesn’t know if Gregory got to him first—and this person didn’t respond to my requests for comment—but she recalls that the man implied she was a liar. “Your daughter has quite the imagination,” the administrator allegedly said.
Schneider never found out whether the administrator shared the complaint with school officials. Her parents, meanwhile, didn’t know where else to go but to the police, and they asked their daughter if she wanted to do so—an unfair burden to put on a 15-year-old, who feared her friends would turn on her for having their favourite teacher arrested. She said no, but rumours that she was responsible for getting Mr. Gregory in trouble spread anyway. Even after the school moved her out of Gregory’s classes, she still had to face her abuser in the halls and hear others talk about him—and about him and her—constantly. Schneider moved on, the way victims of sexual abuse often do. She downplayed it to herself and to anyone else: denial as coping. Eventually she moved to a different school, and the memories faded. On the rare occasion something triggered them, Schneider reassured herself that at least there were no other victims: “I thought I was the only one.”
She wasn’t. For years to come, according to Calgary police and dozens of former students, Gregory would exploit children at John Ware with impunity. Timothy Fitzgibbon, the Calgary police detective in charge of the case, says that Schneider is the first known victim of an as-yet-undetermined number. In November of 2021, three former students, including Schneider, filed a class-action lawsuit against the Calgary Board of Education, alleging the board failed to protect children in its care from Gregory’s predation. “He almost always had an active victim, and at least one more he was grooming at the same time,” says Fitzgibbon. As of this writing, 27 more former students have joined the suit.
Based on witness testimonies, Fitzgibbon believes Gregory may have sexually, emotionally or physically abused as many as 200 students. If he’s right, that would make Gregory one of the most prolific serial abusers in modern Canadian educational history—and one who operated in plain sight, entrusted with his victims’ care, for more than 15 years.
Raised in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Michael Andreassen Gregory studied education at the University of Calgary, cultivating a mountain-man persona as an expert hiker, canoer and camper. John Ware School hired him after he graduated in 1986—at the time, public schools were eager to catch up to the environmental and outdoor-studies programs offered in private schools, and Gregory had free rein to create an outdoor curriculum, including field trips to the Rockies. His outdoor-ed program became a draw for the school, attracting students from across the city.
Gregory was soon asked to join John Ware’s administration team, providing input on hiring, event planning and other school-wide concerns. The position earned him a lot of latitude, as did his readiness with flattery. A retired teacher from John Ware, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, says Gregory always found something to praise. “By the time you walked away, you felt like you must be queen of the world,” she says. “He was always working people.”
To many colleagues, however, there were signs from the start that something was wrong with Gregory. Music teacher Trudy Fossey, who worked across the hall from him between 1988 and 2005, found him creepy. He kept his classroom door closed, obscured its window with paper and spoke to children with locker-room banter. Former students describe his classrooms as lax at best, a circus at worst. Classes broke into horseplay, with Gregory wrestling students to the ground, and his reputation for shock humour normalized behaviour impossible to imagine occurring today: he might unclip a girl’s bra as a prank, or duct-tape a student to a tree.
But Gregory was tolerated as a youthful maverick who related to teens on a deeper level. He drove kids around in his own vehicle, took them on unsanctioned camping weekends, and invited former students, who had graduated to high school, to return as volunteer field trip supervisors. In 1991, he bought an acreage outside the city—a large property with a blue bungalow at the end of a long, secluded driveway, protected by a wire fence. Gregory purchased the property with his wife, the one he told students he was divorcing. Colleagues also found it strange that he never spoke about Mrs. Gregory, or invited her to work gatherings. “For a while I thought, Does he actually have a wife?” says the retired teacher.
Gregory didn’t seem to have friends his own age, either. Instead of grabbing drinks with colleagues at the local pub on Fridays, he hung out with students. But his transgressions never seemed extreme enough to prompt action, and few colleagues bothered confronting him. The anonymous retired teacher did talk to him about his innuendo with students, following the rules of the teacher’s union, which stipulated that teachers must raise issues with colleagues before approaching school administration. “From a predator’s perspective,” she says, “it’s a perfect situation.”
Gregory assured her he’d stop making inappropriate comments—and at least within earshot of her, he did.
Gregory selected his favourites from the cool kids: outgoing, athletic boys and girls with a streak of rebellion. He steered the girls away from their age-appropriate crushes, plying them with favours and gifts including driving lessons, mixtapes and CDs full of suggestive songs (Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” for example). He often took an interest in students just as they needed an adult confidant—when dealing with divorcing parents or hurtful rumours.
Jocelyn Alice, a student from 1998 to 2001, was one of those girls. She says that her difficult home life provided an opportunity for grooming, allowing Gregory to exploit her emotional vulnerabilities. As a teenage musician and performer, Alice also felt insecure about her weight and body. She believes Gregory took advantage of that as well, reeling her in with reassurances that she was beautiful.
He plied girls with gifts, including mixtapes full of suggestive songs, like Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher.”
He tested girls’ comfort with undressing while camping and canoeing, suggesting they change from dirty clothes to clean ones. In the summer before Grade 9, Kelly Schneider accompanied Gregory and some boys from school on a long hike to scout locations for potential field trips. Afterwards, as the boys piled into the back of Gregory’s truck and Schneider climbed into the passenger side, she complained about being sweaty. Gregory tossed her a clean shirt. She acted blasé as she removed her top to change, but she knew that a line was being crossed. It seemed as if Gregory was signalling to the boys that she was off limits, willing to undress for him.
Other times, he’d badger girls into exposing their breasts on a canoe ride, which he did to Alice. One student, who I’ll call Sonya to protect her privacy, attended his camping trips as a junior-high student in the early 2000s. She says she can’t remember an excursion when he didn’t suggest nudity.
Several victims say that girls who didn’t accept his dare were “iced out”—uninvited from trips and taunted with his cryptic insult, “ATNA” (all talk, no action). If they acquiesced, his predation quickened, especially during those outdoors adventures. Sonya even witnessed one such girl, aged 14 or 15, perform oral sex on Gregory in a tent.
Gregory zeroed in on Sonya herself when she was 13. One of his first questions to her was when she would turn 14—she says he said something like, “You’ll be spending a lot more time with me after that.” (Canada’s age of consent at the time was 14, though of course this didn’t apply to teacher-child relationships.) He got closer to Sonya after learning she was adopted, telling her that he was too, something she now believes was a lie. He professed his love to her regularly. Sonya says he abused her almost daily in 2001, even during class, molesting her behind his desk under the pretence of helping with schoolwork.
If a girl turned him down, Gregory might gossip about her. Once, when Jocelyn Alice refused to ride topless in his canoe, Gregory made sure she knew he’d be staying overnight in Sonya’s tent. “He was very specific about pitting us against each other,” she says. “He would talk shit to her about me, and vice versa.”
A woman named Danielle—who asked me not to reveal her surname—attended John Ware from 1999 to 2002. She says Gregory was a skilled social manipulator, controlling her friendships and alienating her from girls who she now understands were also victims. Danielle, now 34, is a junior-high teacher in Calgary. She recognizes how easy it was for Gregory to read teenagers’ body language to prey on insecurities. In school, she was nerdier than her peers, and she couldn’t hide her embarrassment when he commented on students’ bodies: “He picked up on it and kind of circled his way to me.” The more vulnerable she was with Gregory, the more he opened up, eventually sharing that his wife was leaving him—a lie he’d told for over a decade by that point.
Gregory’s deceit knew no bounds. Starting around 2000, he began saying he had prostate cancer. Students were wrecked by the news. At one point he told kids that the cancer had metastasized to his brain, requiring a high-risk procedure involving the removal of his nose. (He took several weeks off and, miraculously, returned in fine shape, save for a bandage.)
He also used his self-proclaimed cancer to procure sexual favours. He convinced students that orgasms were necessary for pain relief and that he was unable to achieve them with his estranged wife. He persuaded some students that he’d written them into his will. To give girls a taste of what they would supposedly inherit, he’d take them for joyrides in sports cars around his acreage, to see land he said he’d sold to developers for millions.
Meanwhile, he raged at boys in his classes if they clashed with him. The statement of claim in the lawsuit filed against the Calgary Board of Education last year alleges that he once rubbed a boy’s face in manure; though the boy’s parents reported the incident to school officials, no action was taken. Two boys say they confronted him about his sexual impropriety with students, and he responded by threatening violence. Another student, Cody Bonkowsky, said he twice brought concerns to a school guidance counsellor, once after witnessing Gregory share a change room with girls. In both instances, the counsellor assured Bonkowsky they’d look into the matter, but to the best of his knowledge, nothing ever came of it.
I spoke to many of Gregory’s former students and colleagues for this story and read hundreds of pages of legal documents. They revealed that parents of at least five students, beginning with Kelly Schneider’s, complained to school staff about Gregory between 1991 and 2004. In each instance, complainants say the claims were minimized or dismissed. None of them seem to have been informed that they had the option to escalate their complaints above the school to the Alberta Teachers’ Association, or ATA, the teachers’ union and professional body that regulates conduct for Alberta teachers.
Incredibly, Gregory’s abuse coincided with a moment of heightened scrutiny of teachers in Canada. In 1996, an Ontario court convicted teacher Ken DeLuca of sexually assaulting 13 girls in elementary and high schools over two decades. His trial revealed systemic failures at multiple schools, where colleagues dismissed accusations and rumours. The case prompted Ontario to overhaul its teacher disciplinary process, transferring responsibilities from the teachers’ union to an independent body. At the time, few provinces used an independent disciplinary process. They all followed suit—except Alberta and Manitoba.
And whereas DeLuca was quietly transferred between schools, Gregory never left John Ware. He continued selecting victims from the same school, grooming them in front of the same colleagues, for years. It’s unusual for any teacher to remain at one institution for an entire career, but Gregory seemed protected at John Ware, and he knew it. “He bragged about having dirt on the school,” says Sonya.
One former student and victim, named Alicia, recalls several instances that should have given teachers cause to report Gregory to school administration. She says a guidance counsellor once caught her sitting in Gregory’s lap, alone in his class. The guidance counsellor allegedly said, “I’ll give you two a minute,” and left. On another occasion, a teacher remained silent after witnessing Gregory grope Alicia’s backside. Two other accusers allege that the same teacher ignored Gregory’s sexual misconduct. (The teacher, who still works at the school, did not respond to my requests for comment.)
Gregory began claiming he had prostate cancer and told students that orgasms were necessary for his pain relief.
Between 1986 and 2003, Gregory was only reported twice to the ATA. Neither complaint involved sexual wrongdoing, and both investigations ended without a hearing. One reason teachers rarely reported him is probably the onerous process they have to navigate when making such complaints. The ATA explicitly states that teachers must first raise issues with the colleague in question. If the issue still persists, they must provide the subject of the complaint with a written copy of the misconduct report, and only then submit the report to administrators.
ATA members are allowed to go above their school’s administration altogether and escalate issues straight to the ATA without notifying the subject of the complaint, or the school. But teachers I spoke to didn’t know they had that option. Most were also unaware that members of the public, such as parents, could report misconduct to the ATA. All of which meant that a disciplinary case against Gregory was incredibly unlikely, unless a colleague caught him in some undeniably criminal act, or police arrested him—something Gregory said he’d never let happen. “He told me all the time that if things went bad he was going to kill himself,” says Sonya. “He didn’t want anyone else to win.” The longer he got away with it, the bolder he became. At one point in the early 2000s, Gregory was abusing at least seven girls between the ages of 14 and 16, and grooming more. He made it clear to each that there would be catastrophic consequences if they told anyone.
Eryn MacKenzie’s abuse began with a secret. In 2000, when she was in Grade 8, Gregory found out through another student that she was throwing up meals and cutting herself. Instead of taking her to a guidance counsellor, Gregory used the knowledge to draw her closer, with a “treatment” that required her to take lunch in his classroom alone, where he would check her arms, hands and ankles for cuts and ensure she kept meals down. Over the next two years, Gregory positioned himself as her only true confidant.
Even though MacKenzie had started junior high with a pack of friends, Gregory encouraged her to distance herself from all of them. What she didn’t know is that many of those girls were also victims. He led her to believe that her childhood best friend—Danielle, the girl who became a junior high teacher—was jealous and two-faced; that Alicia, the girl the guidance counsellor had caught in Gregory’s lap, was a bad influence; and that Cody Bonkowsky, one of her oldest friends, was mentally disturbed. Gregory also encouraged MacKenzie to be more intimate with her boyfriend, but once she was, he belittled the boy both privately and in class, convincing MacKenzie he was a “sissy.” She broke up with him.
Gregory instead nudged MacKenzie to become closer to another girl; I’ll call her Amber to protect her identity. Amber was a year younger, and Gregory would often spend weekends with the two girls together. By 2003, Gregory had begun spending time with Amber and MacKenzie separately, seeing them on different days. When he spent more time with Amber, MacKenzie felt left out. At the same time, she also felt a growing unease about her relationship with Gregory. One evening on the family computer, MacKenzie fired up MSN Messenger. Gregory, she told Amber, had confessed that MacKenzie aroused him.
“What are you talking about? That’s gross. That’s wrong,” Amber wrote in the chat box. MacKenzie panicked and immediately called Gregory. When she didn’t get through, she started thinking about how to soften the news he’d inevitably hear from Amber, that she’d revealed their secret. She texted him, confessing that she’d told Amber about the relationship, and suggested that if they were honest, people would understand.
“No one would understand,” he wrote.
“Maybe this isn’t right,” she replied. “I’m going to tell my parents.”
“That’s when he got angry,” she says. According to MacKenzie, Gregory told her he’d drive to the mountains and shoot himself if word ever got out. To make his point clear, he sent her a picture of a handgun. She begged him not to hurt himself. He said one or the other of them should “go away,” and MacKenzie volunteered. Gregory agreed: “It should be you.” That night, MacKenzie swallowed pills and wrote a letter to her family. But she soon regretted what she’d done. She made herself vomit and crawled into bed. A text from Gregory awaited her in the morning: “u alive?”
She spent the rest of the school year trying to put distance between herself and Gregory. Occasionally, he’d text “how r u?” “miss u,” and “checking in.” She mostly ignored him. She still felt a confusing sense of protectiveness toward him, but she also felt better the further she got from him. Graduating from John Ware helped, but she knew that Amber, a year behind, would join her the following year, bringing the memories flooding back. She transferred to a different school altogether for Grade 11. After high school she moved to Lethbridge, where her brother and mom lived. She began to believe she could put it all behind her.
By 2002, Gregory’s behaviour—always peculiar to other teachers—had become erratic. Perhaps it was the relentless mental labour of juggling so many false narratives to deceive his colleagues and his multiple victims. Some colleagues chalked up his strange behaviour to his medical condition, though several teachers had become convinced that his cancer was a charade. Sources told me that during a short medical leave in February of 2002, a colleague called Gregory’s house to check on him and spoke to his wife. She seemed confused and denied that her husband had cancer.
Due to Gregory’s supposed terminal illness, the school recruited a young rising star in the Calgary Board of Education as an alternate outdoor education teacher. Within weeks of arriving in September of 2003, the new teacher accompanied Gregory on an outdoor-ed trip to Kananaskis Country, a conservation and recreation area in the foothills of the Rockies, between Calgary and Banff. He felt uncomfortable with the way his senior colleague spoke to student leaders over the radio phones; Gregory joked that one female supervisor “liked it in the rear.” He grew even more suspicious after Gregory set up his tent so close to students’ that they appeared connected from end-to-end. And he was outright alarmed when he discovered a girl in Gregory’s tent with him. According to sources familiar with the incident, that girl was his former student Amber, who had moved on to high school.
Following the ATA’s code of conduct, the younger teacher informed Gregory that he planned to report the incident to school administration. Gregory cornered him, reportedly saying, “Be careful; I know a lot of people.” The complaint went ahead, but no action was taken.
In late 2003, Gregory took an extended medical leave, during which his position as science administration leader transferred to the younger teacher. Gregory returned three months later and began to bully his replacement, undermining him with colleagues and students. In March of 2004, the younger teacher reported that behaviour to the ATA, triggering an investigation into whether the bullying violated the association’s code of conduct. The complaint moved slowly, but it opened Gregory up to deeper scrutiny as colleagues began taking more active notice of his outrageous behaviour.
Things came to a head the next year, in May of 2005, during a weekend canoe and camping trip, when a female teacher noticed that Amber was on edge. The teacher approached Amber on the last day of the trip and, after some probing, learned that Gregory had been coercing her and a friend to meet him alone all weekend. Amber showed the teacher alarming texts Gregory sent her during the trip, including one containing a photo of a gun, which he presumably had with him. The messages suggested he’d use the weapon on himself if the girls didn’t join him. According to statements later written by the teenagers in an incident report to the John Ware school officials, they agreed to meet Gregory at the river flats, where he enticed them into a canoe with alcohol. He said it would relax them after he’d scared them with his suicidal threats.
Out in the wilderness, the teacher informed her colleagues and called the principal, who instructed them to confiscate Gregory’s keys to the school. He refused to hand them over and blamed his erratic behaviour on the side effects of his supposed cancer medication. The students and teachers were left in the middle of a provincial park with Gregory, and their canoes were the only way back to the school bus and their cars. The teacher devised a plan to separate Gregory from students and female trip leaders, sending him to his car in a canoe with older males.
Gregory didn’t show up to work that Monday, but he was soon back in touch with Amber and her friend, pressuring them not to mention the gun and the alcohol in their statements to the school. They complied. Approximately 10 weeks later, the ATA received incident reports and statements regarding the camping trip. Only then did Brenda Haubrich, the investigator assigned to the lesser misconduct case brought in 2004, expand the file to include the more serious allegations.
As the inquiry heated up, Gregory’s ATA membership lapsed, effectively ending his employment, since membership is required to teach in Alberta public schools. Haubrich, meanwhile, interviewed several former John Ware students, including Amber and her friend. Questioned separately, neither admitted to a sexual relationship with Gregory. One of the other students was Eryn MacKenzie.
At the time of the inquiry, MacKenzie was 18. The last thing she wanted was to answer interview questions that would dredge up traumatic memories. She agreed to an interview only on the condition that her brother be present. Then, just days before their meeting, Gregory called to ask whether she’d been contacted by the ATA—and why? MacKenzie told him what she suspected, that Haubrich wanted to discuss their relationship. Gregory sounded confused. Had something happened between them? Had he ever hurt her? The cancer medication, he said, had punctured his memories with blackouts.
His act was so convincing that even MacKenzie began to wonder if she’d misremembered, and whether Haubrich would believe her. As far as MacKenzie knew, the investigation was largely about her, which meant any allegation would be her word against Gregory’s. At the interview, Haubrich confirmed she was looking into allegations about her and Gregory. She didn’t specify what those allegations were. Haubrich didn’t respond to my interview requests, but according to MacKenzie, their conversation led her to conclude that she was at the centre of the inquiry. The pressure was suffocating. Worried she was in trouble, she became defensive. “I focused only on the good things that Gregory did in my life,” she says, “that he helped me with my self-harm and eating disorder and introduced me to canoeing.” Haubrich didn’t seem to buy it, and said as much in a follow-up call. MacKenzie maintained her story.
One by one, the women shared their agonizing secrets with each other. For the first time, they didn’t have to suffer silently.
In the end, the ATA couldn’t corroborate rumours of abuse with the alleged victims. The association did, however, find strong evidence of grooming and sexual harassment, plus a litany of violent and humiliating offences spanning more than a decade, such as throwing animal feces at students and force-feeding his own belly-button hair to another. Gregory pleaded guilty on two charges: mistreating students and dishonouring his profession. The ATA suspended his membership for two years and asked the minister of education to suspend his licence, which would prevent him from working in any Alberta school. He was officially decertified in May of 2006, one year after the camping trip meltdown.
Around the same time, he started a new landscaping business and began hiring former students, including MacKenzie. He told them the ATA had no evidence against him. Rather, Gregory said he willingly resigned from teaching because the investigation damaged his reputation. And he continued his cancer charade. According to some students, John Ware School used the same excuse to explain his sudden absence.
Years passed. Staff turned over. Students started families of their own in farther-flung suburbs, never to walk John Ware’s halls again. When the school held a 50th-anniversary celebration in 2019, Michael Gregory was, for most, just a face in a picture frame.
His victims didn’t have the luxury of forgetting. Their abuser loomed as they pursued careers in law, cosmetology, health care, art and education; and as they lived very different lives across Canada and the U.S., with seemingly little in common but their specific trauma. He loomed as they struggled with relationships, teen pregnancy, poverty, parenting and trust. He loomed as they battled the psychological and physical effects of sexual violence: PTSD, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, self-harm, substance abuse.
Jocelyn Alice was haunted by the knowledge that the first person who saw her breasts was her teacher, when he forcefully removed her top during a canoe ride. Because she refused to go along with it, Alice was spared further abuse—or “iced out”—but she suspected that Gregory had inflicted much worse on others. Sixteen years later, Alice was an accomplished singer-songwriter, living in Los Angeles. All around her, Hollywood’s reckoning with serial predators was palpable, and the #MeToo movement gave her hope.
She moved back to Calgary in 2019. That fall, she played an outdoor music and food festival, and after her set, she mixed with the crowd to bask in the warm hometown reception. That’s when she saw Sonya for the first time since school. Before exchanging a word, she could tell that Sonya had the same thing on her mind. “We just knew, we knew, that we’d survived something rare and painful together,” she says. Little by little, over texts, phone calls and drinks, Sonya spilled her secrets, things that were worse than Alice imagined. “She didn’t know how deep it went with me,” says Sonya.
They began brainstorming how to expose Gregory, even devising a plan to confront him at his home. In the summer of 2020, they decided the best path was to go through the media. When Alice brought the story to Nancy Hixt, the host of Global’s Crime Beat podcast, the journalist instead directed her to the Calgary Police’s sexual assault investigative unit.
It took a lot of convincing for Sonya to give a police statement; she wasn’t sure she trusted the legal system to handle the case properly. She provided enough, however, for Detective Timothy Fitzgibbon to open an investigation, and to begin finding more victims and witnesses. One by one, they shared their agonizing secrets with him and with each other, realizing for the first time that they didn’t have to suffer silently.
Once police had six victims solidly identified, Fitzgibbon sent out search and arrest warrants for Gregory at his acreage. They took him into custody in February of 2021, laying 17 sex-related charges. The women braced for the fallout. MacKenzie recalls former classmates and teachers suddenly messaging her, admitting long-standing suspicions about her relationship with Gregory. Her childhood best friend, Danielle, got in touch to say that she too was a victim. They realized their abuser hadn’t just inflicted harm on them, but on their close friends, and that he’d strategically pitted the girls against one other to silence them.
It all came as a total shock to Kelly Schneider, by then in her late 40s, who learned about the arrest in a text message from an old friend. She still thought she was his only victim, but now believes she may only have been his first. After reading her friend’s text, she showed it to her husband, who knew about her abuse. “He’s going to kill himself,” she said after a long silence. “He was all about control,” she told me later. “That was the last thing he would be able to control.”
The courts decided Gregory wasn’t a threat to the public and released him with conditions, pending a court appearance. Sure enough, five days after his arrest, he killed himself on Quadra Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, where he had a vacation property
For some victims, his death came as a relief. They’d never have to face their monster at trial. For others, it was just Gregory once again getting away with his crimes. MacKenzie started a support group on Facebook and eventually found Schneider. She was gutted to learn that her older counterpart had come forward about Gregory when MacKenzie herself was just a toddler. How would her own life have turned out differently, she wondered, had people believed Schneider all those years ago?
After Gregory’s suicide, it became obvious that he’d benefited from a culture of apathy—or worse, complicity. By then, police had 17 complainants, 35 witnesses and a growing number of former students reporting that they’d noticed red flags. Soon, police turned their attention to the liability of third parties. Crown counsel determined that the Calgary Board of Education and the ATA weren’t criminally accountable—though Fitzgibbon, who has examined the ATA’s internal case file from the 2005 investigation, says the association had at that time collected evidence to support a criminal investigation of sexual exploitation.
At the heart of the school board’s defence is that it owes no duty of care to the children who attended its school.
The ATA’s executive secretary, Dennis Theobald, says if the association handled the case today, it would have immediately engaged police: “We’re committed to improving, and that’s a process that’s been under way.”
The association’s handling of the case has received criticism from students, former colleagues, Alberta’s education minister and even former premier Jason Kenney. Some have blamed rigid workers’ rights enshrined in the ATA code of conduct for protecting Gregory from more scrutiny. Theobald nonetheless defends the association, saying that the main problem is school officials misunderstanding or ignoring their profession’s disciplinary process and not reporting the misconduct in the first place.
It’s too late now for improvements to the ATA procedure. On January 1, 2023, the newly formed Alberta Teaching Profession Commission will begin addressing teachers’ conduct and disciplinary matters, finally taking them out of the hands of the teachers’ union. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange proposed the change in March of this year, specifically citing the ATA’s failure to report the Gregory case.
The provincial government has been silent about the school board’s accountability in the Gregory affair. The commission is developing a new, unified code of conduct for Alberta’s roughly 50,000 teachers and principals, which will require education professionals to report to police any suspected harm to children caused by a teacher.
In November of 2021, MacKenzie and Schneider, along with Cody Bonkowsky, filed a $40-million class-action lawsuit against the Calgary Board of Education and the estate of Michael Gregory. (The estate’s executor is Gregory’s widow, who declined my interview requests through a lawyer.) As of this writing, 30 men and women have claimed damages for alleged negligence on the part of the school board. The class members have provided evidence that the board, which is today responsible for 125,000 children, failed to protect those in its care. They allege that, despite repeated complaints and common knowledge of Gregory’s fireable behaviour, John Ware School promoted him to administration, giving him more control over students.
School board officials declined multiple interview requests, and the board itself refused to comment beyond a brief statement: “The Calgary Board of Education takes the allegations very seriously.” More than 20 board employees, including all seven elected school trustees and chief superintendent Christopher Usih, ignored my messages or redirected them to a media liaison, who requested that I stop asking employees questions and emailed Maclean’s editor-in-chief to “reinforce” the message.
Several plaintiffs also told me that in pre-trial cross-examination, the board’s lawyers seemed to be attempting to discredit them. Mathew Farrell, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, says the board’s lawyers questioned their motivations for agreeing to interviews for this article, insinuating the women were looking to use media attention for monetary gain.
While the board wouldn’t comment on its strategy, its statement of defence makes it plain: to erect a series of ever-higher barriers for complainants to hurdle. It begins with a blanket denial of “each and every allegation.” If allegations are proven, the board’s defence is that it was ignorant of Gregory’s actions and that the abuses occurred outside of its supervision. If that too is disproven, the statement claims that the victims suffered no losses or damages. And so on. At the heart of the defence is that the board owes no duty of care to the children who attended its school, and who were victimized by its employee, for years.
The goal appears to be to exhaust the plaintiffs and reach an out-of-court settlement, a common outcome for civil sexual assault suits. Since the #MeToo movement began in 2017, the number of school-related sexual abuse cases reported has nearly doubled, according to a recent report by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. The numbers have also risen sharply in the United States, in both countries, these cases are increasingly being tried in civil courts.For Gregory’s victims, that will mean undergoing intense, painful judgment and once more second-guessing agonizing memories. Many feel that they’re being gaslighted again, but this time by the school board on behalf of their abuser. “They’re still covering his ass,” says Sonya, “and theirs.”
This article appears in print in the December 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $8.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.