MONTREAL - It began as a dispute over homework at Roslyn School that ultimately evolved into a defamation lawsuit.
On Thursday, teacher Mary Kanavaros prevailed with the country’s top court.
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal by a Westmount couple who were ordered in 2010 to pay Kanavaros $234,000 for defaming her.
“I’ve waited a long, long time for justice,” an emotional Kanavaros told The Gazette.
“I think maybe I can breathe now,” said Kanavaros who has been on sick leave since 2008.
In January, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a lower court judgment ordering Kathryn Rosenstein and Hagop Artinian to pay Kanavaros, their son’s former elementary teacher, $234,011.87 for making defamatory remarks about her.
The parents had filed a lawsuit against Kanavaros in 2005, alleging, among other things, that she had humiliated and intimidated their son in front of the class.
The sequence of events that led to the parents’ legal action began with Kanavaros asking their son “to redo a part of his homework that had clearly been written by the mother, and escalated from there,” the Court of Appeal noted in January.
On the day the initial trial was supposed to start in March 2008, the parents’ lawyer offered to withdraw the case. A settlement was reached that was supposed to remain confidential. The English Montreal School Board would give the parents $5,000 with no admission of fault.
But the parents immediately spoke to the waiting media and their comments landed them back in court. Kanavaros sued them for defamation and won.
When the parents made remarks such as “we made our point” they affirmed before the media that they had proven their assertions, “yet nothing is more false,” Quebec Superior Court Justice Danielle Richer wrote in the 2010 judgment that criticized their actions.
Kanavaros’s depression was a reaction directly related to the malicious attack on her reputation that was spread through the media, Richer ruled.
The judge also wrote that Kanavaros showed in a convincing way that she had a good reputation at Roslyn School.
The legal saga attracted media attention, including making the front page of The Gazette when the parents filed their lawsuit.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant the parents leave to appeal the defamation award, Kanavaros called the wait for justice in the case “excruciatingly painful.”
“I hope I can heal from all the damage. I have to put my life back together,” she said.
“I feel that measures should be in place in our system for this never to happen again to another innocent teacher,” she said. “That’s what I wish for.”
Kanavaros went back to McGill University when she was 38 years old to become a French immersion teacher “because that was my love and my passion,” she said.
“I was an extremely devoted French immersion teacher.”
Rosenstein and Artinian could not be reached for comment. Their lawyer, Julius Grey, declined to comment. The parents had maintained their remarks weren’t defamatory. And Grey told the Court of Appeal that the parents hadn’t called the media and didn’t know they would approach them at the courthouse.
Kanavaros’s lawyer, Martine L. Tremblay, said the case is important because it confirms that in a classroom “a teacher has some authority and deserved to be supported by the parents.”
“It’s not dangerous for the kid’s health ... She’s asking him to do homework.”