Natasha Seymour was sexually abused multiple times while growing up.
She stayed silent.
In 2016, she was sexually assaulted at a party. That would become the catalyst for Seymour to decide she would no longer be a survivor without a voice.
It was a course of action that would result in a precedent-setting court case, confirming women’s sexual consensual rights, and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages awarded in her favour.
Jan. 23, 2016. Dease Lake, a remote community of 500 people in northwest B.C., is hosting a hockey tournament at its arena.
One of the visitors is Seymour, a then-29-year-old teacher at the Klappan Independent School in Iskut, a smaller community 85 kilometres south of Dease Lake.
After a visit to the tournament’s beer garden, Seymour went to a house party with a cousin and her best friend Candice Quock, the evening’s designated driver. Among the party-goers was Shayl Nole, a then-18-year-old relative with whom Seymour shares a grandparent.
Around 4 a.m., Quock attempted to take her intoxicated friend home. But Seymour was still in a party mood, so Quock left. Not long after, Seymour found an empty bedroom and went to sleep, fully clothed.
When she woke up, her clothes had been removed and beside her in the bed was Nole, naked.
Seymour doesn’t remember anything, but told Quock when she arrived shortly after she was afraid something happened between her and Nole. She declined to go to the hospital.
Later at the arena, Nole’s mother Kimberly Marion confronted them publicly, accusing Seymour of having an inappropriate relationship with her son.
Those are the condensed facts of what transpired on the evening of Jan. 23 and the following morning, as determined by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Palbinder Kaur Shergill, who presided over a civil suit Seymour brought against Nole for sexual battery and Marion for defamation.
“The reason I wanted to do all of this, and then eventually share my story, (is) because I wanted to help other women,” Seymour told The Interior News.
“It says in the final decision that it was a precedent-setting case, and that there’s no case like it. But in the real world, there are many that are like mine. There are many women who have fallen asleep at a party or fallen asleep in their own home, and this happened to them.”
A SIX-YEAR ORDEAL
The next six years were a long ordeal that took a toll on Seymour’s mental health.
Shortly after the incident, Marion complained to the Klappan school principal about Seymour having sexual relations with her son while he was underage. In March 2016, Seymour found out she was under investigation by the Teacher Regulation Branch (TRB) of the education ministry.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, she had moved to the Sxoxomic Elementary School at Alkali Lake. But shortly after she was interviewed by the TRB investigator, she left that job due to depression and anxiety.
In April 2017, she finally filed a complaint against Nole with the RCMP, but nothing ever came of the investigation.
A month later, the TRB exonerated Seymour, saying there was no “no reasonable prospect the TRB report or complaint will result in an adverse finding by a panel.”
In September 2017, she went back to teaching, at the Kispiox Community School, but would not finish out the year.
Having had no success with the police, Seymour turned to Smithers lawyer Ian Lawson. In January 2018, they filed a civil suit seeking damages against Nole for sexual battery and Marion for defamation.
“It was very challenging … I was able to see all of (Marion’s) lies on paper and that was very stressful. But for being a part of a close-knit community, it was very challenging … the litigation process, it’s so lengthy.”
Before the 2017-2018 academic year was over, she would once again resign from teaching.
“I learned that I was bipolar and I was carrying a lot because I was going through the legal process … to be a teacher and to take care of anywhere from 14 to 21 children. I couldn’t do it.
“I’ve been learning to walk into worlds of being an Aboriginal woman and having my culture and then having the education world at the same time. And then all of a sudden, it’s like another world came into my life. And that was learning how to walk with my trauma … that is a very huge mountain to climb.”
She did return to teaching as a special education teacher at the Gitsegukla Elementary School for the 2019-2020 academic year, but her position was cut due to the pandemic.
At the time of the trial, which took place over three weeks in the fall of 2021 at the provincial courthouse in Smithers, Seymour was working as a truck driver at the Red Chris gold mine, a job she found easier to manage during her healing journey than teaching.
THE SEXUAL BATTERY CLAIM
Shayl Nole never denied that he and Seymour had sex on the morning of Jan. 24, 2016.
At issue was whether Seymour had given consent or whether Nole had a reasonable belief in consent.
Justice Shergill noted that the only evidence the encounter was consensual was Nole’s testimony that Seymour had initiated it at about 1 a.m. and had been a drunk, but happy participant. This was rejected by the judge as being unreliable, and contradicted by Nole’s defence witnesses and Seymour’s.
Shergill found Seymour’s testimony that she had not given consent to be credible, and given her state of intoxication, would have been unable to provide consent and would not have if she had been able.
On the issue of whether Nole had a reasonable belief in consent, the defence relied on Nole’s contention that he and Seymour had known each other for many years and had been involved in a sexual relationship since he was 15; that they had been acting romantically toward each other at the party prior to the incident; that she actively participated in the sexual encounter; and that she failed to seek assistance from two other party-goers who had allegedly walked in on them.
Having already found Nole’s testimony and that of other defence witnesses to be not credible, the judge concluded he did not have a reasonable belief in consent.
For the sexual battery, Seymour sought an unspecified amount for psychological injuries including depression, psychosis, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem as well as damages for past and future loss of income.
Shergill noted a significant pre-existing condition due to Seymour’s history of adverse childhood events, multiple sexual traumas, anxiety and depression, and excessive alcohol consumption.
For the battery, the judge awarded Seymour $100,000. For the resulting psychological damages, the judge sided with the defence view that because of the pre-existing condition Nole’s responsibility was diminished.
Shergill held Nole responsible for only 20 per cent of the injuries, concluding “there is an 80 per cent likelihood that Ms. Seymour would still have suffered the injuries.”
The award for psychological injuries was $25,000. The judge also found Nole responsible for 45 per cent of past income losses of $138,461 awarding Seymour $62,300.
Shergill also awarded $85,000 for potential future earnings loss, due to the fact the disruption in Seymour’s career set her back in seniority.
THE DEFAMATION CLAIM
In the claim against Kimberley Marion, Seymour sought damages for several instances of alleged defamation.
The claim alleged Marion made statements about Seymour, who was present at the arena on Jan. 24, in front of witnesses that suggested Seymour had been in an inappropriate relationship with a minor who was a blood relative and had used her influence as a teacher to “groom” him for the purpose of sexual assault.
Although the judge dismissed that a reasonable person would draw those particular inferences, she concluded Marion had said, “stay the f*** away from my son … I don’t want you with my son (and) he’s younger than you” during the confrontation.
Shergill found the incident defamatory, saying: “It is reasonable to assume that such words … would tend to lower the plaintiff’s reputation. This is particularly the case given Ms. Seymour’s occupation and profile in the community.”
The suit also claimed defamation related to statements Marion made to the principal of the Klappan Independent School and the TRB investigator that Seymour was seen “making out” with Marion’s 17-year-old son at a wedding reception dance in Telegraph Creek; Seymour was in a position of being a teacher and behaving inappropriately (specifically a Snapchat video in which the defendant said Seymour was dancing suggestively); and that there were similar incidents that happened between Ms. Seymour and other younger men in the area.
The judge concluded there was no truth to any of the statements. Witnesses at the Telegraph Creek wedding corroborated Seymour’s account that it was Nole who had tried to kiss her and that she had pushed him away and told him to “f*** off.”
Similarly, Shergill saw no evidence of sexually suggestive behaviour in the video or of Seymour engaging in any way with other young men.
The judge also concluded that Marion knew the statements were false, or at least acted with reckless indifference to whether they were true.
The judge awarded Seymour $30,000 for general damages to her reputation and $20,000 in aggravated damages because she found Marion’s actions to be motivated by malice.
The awards total $322,300.
Claims against the Iskut First Nation and several associated individuals were resolved prior to trial and Seymour was ordered to pay their legal costs.
The judge dismissed a counterclaim by Nole alleging Seymour had been engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with him when he was underage.
Defence counsel Oliver Hanson told The Interior News via email that neither he nor his clients would be commenting on the decision pending an appeal.
On June 23, Nole and Marion filed the appeal with the B.C. Court of Appeal seeking to have Shergill’s decisions set aside, the sexual battery and defamation claims dismissed, and Nole’s counterclaim allowed. Failing that, they are seeking to have the damages reduced.
Alternatively, they are asking for a new trial.
In the meantime, Seymour is moving on with her life with a sense of vindication.
“I just felt I felt so validated,” she said.
“And I felt so grateful because this case will help so many other men and women. And just to be able to make a ripple effect in the culture of violence in that way.”
She credits her six nephews and a niece for the motivation to keep going.
“That’s what really got me through, especially my niece, because I do everything for her. I will do everything I can to provide safety in her world.
“And if I were to have just … lay down and just let them create these rumours and these lies about me and let them turn the story on me, I would have just felt that I would not have provided a safe world for my niece like that.”
Seymour is being treated for her mental health issues, has gone through trauma treatment, continues with counselling and found the traditional art of beading, which she said has been therapeutic and transformational.
She returned to the classroom in January in Hazelton.
“Everything has improved in my life since learning that I was bipolar and working with a doctor who could help me through this journey.”
She hopes her story will have an impact on the “culture of silence” that perpetuates sexual violence in society.
“I really want to break that culture. That was brought to us. It’s not our way. It was brought on by colonialism and I just want to shed light on it.
“I want to see more women coming forward.”