When charges of sexually assaulting a student were withdrawn against teacher Krystal Wilson, supporters who had packed a tiny courtroom respectfully remained silent.
But as soon as they walked into the hallway at the Oshawa courthouse last Friday, dozens of people cheered, cried, hugged, took photos and sang. They sang all the way to the escalators, belting out the gospel song “Victory is Mine.” Outside, they prayed in frigid weather with Wilson and her husband, Tristian.
The supporters — family, friends, former students — wore black T-shirts that read “Justice for Ms. C.,” a reference to her married name, Clunis, which she used at school.
It should have felt like happiness when the Crown withdrew the charges, Wilson, 32, told the Star in an interview at her lawyer’s office a few days later. But, at that moment, she couldn’t quite pinpoint the emotion.
“I felt overwhelmed to see all those people there,” she said. “And I felt that, after months of going through that case, for it to be just 10 seconds of them saying this is done — it didn’t seem like enough, to be honest.”
The Durham Region teacher has always maintained her innocence. Still, at a time when the handling of allegations of sexual assault by the justice system is being vigorously debated in the wider public, even having the charges withdrawn may not be enough to restore her life to how it once was.
Although there are no longer criminal charges hanging over her head, the impact on her health and reputation may be long-lasting.
Will the strange looks, the whispers, the comments from strangers online ever stop?
“Shock” and “disbelief” is how Wilson describes feeling when she learned in October 2018 that she had been charged with sexually assaulting a former student, who would have been 10 years old at the time.
According to a video statement given to police and played at the teacher’s preliminary hearing, the student claimed Wilson had given him a 20- to 30-second “handjob” at her desk in front of the class, and had done the same another time in the same portable classroom during recess, when they were alone with the door open.
There would have been about 30 students in the classroom at the time of the first allegation and yet, Wilson said, police did not interview any of them prior to charging her, nor did they interview her.
“It just felt like someone missed a step along the way, for them to get that far and for there to be criminal charges to be laid based off of a child’s word,” she told the Star. “I’m not saying don’t take these allegations seriously, but at the same time … the allegation is sexual assault in front of an entire class of 30 students — to not talk to any of those other 30 students just seems a bit ridiculous.”
A Durham Regional Police spokesperson said he was not able to comment on investigative strategies or tactics in Wilson’s case, but said the service respects the decision of the court.
“These types of investigations are very sensitive because they involve minors and each complaint of this kind is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly,” police spokesman Dave Selby said. “I can assure you that we do not lay these types of serious charges lightly.”
Wilson said the allegations came a few days after a Saturday night when the boy and a friend prank called her husband’s cellphone, which is available online as he’s a real estate agent. Wilson said that when she called the number back, she recognized the voicemail recording of a former student at her previous school.
Wilson said she went to her old school on the Monday to tell the child’s mother and the principal about the calls, which the boy later acknowledged making in his statement to police. She wasn’t able to see the principal, but she did speak with the mother.
Wilson and her lawyer say it was after this conversation at the school that the boy alleged he had been sexually assaulted. A day later, Wilson said, she was teaching in her classroom when her principal said she had to leave because there was a pending allegation against her.
Within about two weeks, she was arrested outside a Shoppers Drug Mart in her hometown, charged with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual interference. She was kept in handcuffs outside for about 40 minutes by four male police officers who, she said, told her they had to wait for a female officer to arrive to pat her down.
“There was a crowd. It was embarrassing,” Wilson said, wiping away tears. “I asked multiple times if I could sit in their car. I wasn’t holding anything of danger. My frustration was, well if you knew you were coming to arrest a female, why didn’t you have a female officer with you?”
Daniel Brown, her lawyer, said that with these types of allegations, it’s typical to have the person surrender to the police station.
“There’s no conceivable reason for why the police wouldn’t have done that here,” he said.
Wilson spent the night in jail, sleeping on a bench. The next day she was bailed with strict conditions, including a prohibition on contact with any child under the age of 14, directly or indirectly, unless accompanied by another adult.
“It meant that even a trip to the grocery store, or a trip to anywhere in the community, potentially put her in jeopardy of having contact with a child and having her bail revoked,” Brown said.
Durham police put out a press release announcing her arrest, saying they wanted to ensure there were no other victims, which police told the Star is standard procedure in these types of cases. (No one else came forward.) Her name and photo were published widely by media outlets.
Wilson, who was Miss Canada Globe in 2008, had had a steady stream of work doing TV commercials as a model on top of her teaching.
“I worked really hard to establish a positive image and in those few minutes, in a heartbeat, it’s all removed,” she said. “Now if you search my name all you see is this negativity. How do you fix that?”
Her passport was revoked after she was charged, meaning she could not travel to a wedding in Barbados she had already paid for, nor could she go to her aunt’s memorial in Jamaica, the only member of her family unable to attend.
She was put on paid leave from teaching, and her volunteer work with her church was limited by the ban on being near children. She had to pay for a lawyer. Her part-time modelling work came to a halt. Plans to start a family with her husband of nearly 10 years had to be put on hold. And the stress-induced seizures she’s had infrequently over the years were now occurring almost monthly. She started seeing a professional for anxiety and depression — just leaving the house brought on anxiety.
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“We’ve never been through anything like this ever before,” said her husband, Tristian Clunis, “I just wanted to make sure I kept her spirit up, keep her positive, let her know that we already know the truth and we just have to go through the process.”
The time between her arrest and the charge being withdrawn was “excruciating,” Wilson said. But her faith kept her going, she said, and her church family prayed and fasted with her, standing by her right up to last Friday’s court appearance.
The hearing didn’t last long. A Crown attorney said that after a “comprehensive review” of the evidence from the preliminary hearing in which the complainant and a few other witnesses testified, the charges were being withdrawn as there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction.
Then her lawyer spoke: “Ms. Wilson is a passionate and caring teacher who had her livelihood and her reputation destroyed 16 months ago when these false allegations surfaced,” Brown told the judge. “This ordeal has stripped Ms. Wilson of her liberty, dignity and privacy.
“We are grateful that she now has her innocence restored today. Ms. Wilson sincerely hopes that the injustice of what took place to her in no way tarnishes the justice system’s quest to pursue truthful claims of sexual assault and to bring genuine offenders to justice.”
With the stroke of a pen, Superior Court Justice Laura Bird wrote on an endorsement that the charges were being withdrawn at the request of the Crown. And it was over.
“I think the result speaks for itself,” Brown told the Star. “This wasn’t a case where a judge said. ‘I can’t decide whether you did it or not.’ This was a case where the Crown attorney said it would be unreliable to even try to prosecute this case based on the evidence we have.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General said the Crown is “duty-bound” to withdraw charges if there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction, or if it’s not in the public interest to proceed with the case.
“Pursuant to the Crown’s ongoing obligation to assess the case and after careful consideration, the Crown determined that a withdrawal of these charges was appropriate,” said spokesman Brian Gray.
The question of whether Wilson can go back to teaching remains.
“I’d love to because that’s what I’m made to do,” she said. “I do know I need to get over this anxiety. When I teach I give so much of myself, so I don’t know how to give halfway.”
Her mother found a photo of her at the age of four writing that she wanted to become a teacher — although she spelled it “techr.” As a teen, she volunteered in schools and was encouraged to pursue teaching as a profession. After becoming a teacher, she would attend many of her students’ extracurricular activities to cheer them on.
“Can she still be that type of teacher now?” Brown said, adding that after the charges, her enthusiasm had been scrutinized as evidence against her. “Everything was turned upside down and turned on its head to be something sinister.”
Wilson is still on leave from school, but remains in good standing with the College of Teachers and is not currently facing disciplinary proceedings. A spokesman said the college doesn’t comment on cases that may or may not be under investigation, but that “it’s possible that a matter may proceed as an allegation of professional misconduct, regardless of the criminal matter.”
The Durham District School Board said it could not comment on Wilson’s case.
“We are diligent in ensuring that procedures are followed when there is a question in relation to student safety,” said a statement from the board’s communications department, adding the board co-operates fully with other organizations including the police.
For now, at least, the criminal charges are gone and Wilson is once again innocent in the eyes of the law.
“From the very beginning, I was very clear about my innocence and I’ll continue to do that,” she said. “So I think the whispering will have to stop, because my stance will never change.”