$10M settlement approved in class-action lawsuit against Royal Winnipeg Ballet, former instructor

An Ontario Superior Court judge has approved a $10-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Bruce Monk, a photographer and former instructor with the ballet company’s school.

The RWB agreed to the multimillion-dollar compensation settlement in January 2022.

It was approved Friday in a virtual hearing.

Monk was accused of taking nude and sexual photos of young women and teenage girls who were students with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, where he worked as a photographer and instructor from 1984 to 2015. Some of the photos were posted online.

He was fired by the RWB amid the allegations in 2015.

The class-action lawsuit was launched in 2016 and was approved by the courts in 2018. It maintains that the company failed to protect students and breached fiduciary obligations to students.

The lawsuit didn’t allege Monk’s conduct was criminal. It focused on allegations he abused a position of trust and power.

“There’s a lot of us that suffered and continue to suffer,” lead plaintiff Sarah Doucet told CBC News last month, after the RWB agreed to the settlement.

“But … I’m really relieved. I think that this is hopefully going to give permission to a lot of women to finally tackle this and be able to get some closure and feel OK.”

Potentially dozens of former students of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet may be eligible for compensation.

A lawyer representing former students said last month that lawyers had identified 50 to 70 former students who had nude, semi-nude or sexualized photos taken of them, but estimated there could be more.

The total compensation that claimants may receive will depend upon the total number of claimants, the severity of impact, and whether the images taken by Monk were distributed online or otherwise published.

With the settlement approved, those wanting to submit a claim for compensation can expect details about the claim process to be released soon. Claims will be accepted for a 12-month period.

RWB offers formal apology

After the settlement was approved Friday, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet published an apology to the members of the lawsuit.

“We acknowledge that these photography sessions were traumatizing for many students,” the RWB said in the apology.

“The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is deeply sorry and regrets that the class members, all of whom were talented and vulnerable young people, were not protected as they should have been.”

Since Monk’s dismissal in 2015, the RWB has “made significant changes to the way we operate,” the apology says.

The changes include new policies that include rigorous guidelines specific to photography and videography.

The ballet company says it has restructured its student orientation and expanded its “student care program,” in an effort to empower students and give them the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns.

“The Royal Winnipeg Ballet will continue to do everything we can to prevent abuse of any kind and to act quickly and decisively in difficult situations,” its statement said.

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