Three alleged victims of sexual assault will have their cases heard together in a civil lawsuit against a former Abbotsford RCMP officer and AAA minor hockey coach.
Robert Callan, Thomas Thiessen and Travis Piers claim they were sexually assaulted by Donald Cooke between 1982 and 1985 when they were minors. Cooke was stationed with the Abbotsford RCMP detachment and was coaching the city’s AAA minor hockey team during this period.
The three plaintiffs are also seeking damages against the Attorney General of Canada, claiming the office is liable for the actions of Cooke, as he was an RCMP officer during these alleged assaults. The attorney general denies the allegations in relation to Cooke and any potential liability from his actions.
Callan and Piers were both hockey players under Cooke’s tutelage. They say that Cooke cultivated a relationship with them with the intention of sexually assaulting them.
Thiessen did not play hockey under Cooke, but similarly claims the defendant cultivated a relationship with him and his parents for the same sexual purposes as the other two plaintiffs.
All claim to be sexually assaulted in Cooke’s police vehicle, among other locations.
Bob Mostar, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, initially filed Callan’s civil claim against Cooke and the attorney general in 2011, followed by Thiessen’s in 2015, and Piers’ in 2019.
Cooke was previously under RCMP investigation, from 2004 to 2009, after Callan, Piers, and two others former players came forward claiming sexual assault while they were being coached by him in the 1980s. He was arrested by RCMP officers in 2005, but Crown counsel later dismissed the charges, citing a lack of evidence.
An application to dismiss the three civil cases by Cooke’s lawyer – on grounds that the RCMP never charged him with a crime and the delay in bringing the cases before the courts since their initial filings – was denied by Justice Christopher Hinkson on March 3.
Hinkson said, because of significant trauma suffered by victims of sexual assaults, the delay was reasonable. His decision cited the plaintiffs’ affidavits explaining psychological stress.
“I had a great deal of difficulty bringing myself to a decision to finally initiate and permit the filing of the action,” Thiessen’s affidavit says. “I instructed my solicitor to pause on the process of the lawsuit as my psychological state would not permit me to address the issues and I did not feel psychologically strong enough to move forward.”
Cooke has previously denied the allegations of his four former players, claiming they were kicked off the team in 1985 because it was discovered they were in possession of stolen equipment.
Cooke also filed a lawsuit of his own against the RCMP, seeking $13.5 million in damages, claiming mistreatment during their investigation into the claims.
In his suit against the RCMP, Cooke pointed to two polygraph tests from 2005 and 2006, where the tester stated he was “conclusively telling the truth.” The parties reached a settlement in 2015, where Cooke won a lump-sum payment and would be eligible for his RCMP pension.
A civil case was previously brought against Cooke by Mostar in 2005, representing another alleged victim from Abbotsford. Graeme Wilson claimed he was arrested by Cooke in connection to an arson of his family’s residence and coerced into sexual favours between 1983 and 1986 in exchange for the charges being dropped.
Cooke’s defence argued the three cases should be heard by a judge separately, allowing the evidence from each case to be based on its individual merits.
Hinkson decided the evidence will be heard by a trial judge, and it will be up to that judge’s discretion whether the cases will be tried together.
[CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated Cooke was stationed with the Matsqui RCMP detachment – it was the Abbotsford RCMP detachment.]
– with files from Vikki Hopes