Prominent driving instructor and newspaper columnist Steve Wallace will no longer be conducting lessons or be near driving students, while Victoria police and ICBC investigate numerous claims of sexual harassment against him that have arisen online.
The experiences are anonymously posted on an Instagram page and all follow a similar thread – teen students who say Wallace, now 72, took advantage of being alone with them in a vehicle to inappropriately touch them and make suggestive, prying comments.
Aiko Oye, 18, who created the @wallacedrivingschoolvictims page, told Black Press Media she’s already received close to 50 messages from other past students since starting it a week ago, 11 of whom gave her permission to post their experiences alongside hers.
Wallace, who founded Wallace Driving School in 1976 with his wife Joan Wallace, has personally taught over 25,000 students, according to the school’s website. Prior to that, he was an elementary and high school teacher in Quesnel, B.C. where he also served as mayor for 12 years and councillor for seven. Of the allegations on @wallacedrivingschoolvictims, several date back to his time there in the 1980s. Oye’s driving lesson happened just last month.
The 90-minute lesson on Aug. 28 was her second-last lesson with the school, but her first one with Wallace. Oye said the experience left her sick to her stomach, as she alleges Wallace sexually harassed her throughout.
Returning home that night, Oye told her family what happened and learned from her sister’s friends that other teens and women in Greater Victoria say they’ve had similar experiences. It was then she decided to create the Instagram page.
“I know sexual assault and harassment allegations aren’t always taken seriously, and it’s really scary for people to speak out about that. So I wanted to make a space where people could talk about it and be completely honest and open without any fear of any backlash.”
Oye’s mom reached out to Wallace Driving School on Sept. 2 explaining what had happened to her daughter and requesting a refund for the $1,500 package of lessons. Wallace’s wife, Joan Wallace, responded in emails seen by Black Press Media that she agreed something had to be done and a refund would be in the works shortly.
Joan later suggested a phone call to discuss things, which Aiko Oye refused.
On Thursday (Sept. 9), Joan emailed Oye’s mom to say the school could offer them a $65 refund to cover the final lesson Oye wouldn’t be taking, but that they wouldn’t be reimbursing them for the lesson with Wallace.
Oye has made an official report with the Victoria Police Department and expects others will do the same.
VicPD public affairs officer Const. Cam MacIntyre told Black Press Media the department can’t confirm an investigation is underway until charges are laid, but that they take allegations of sexual harassment and assault seriously.
The Victoria Sexual Assault Centre has received multiple calls related to Wallace, executive director Elijah Zimmerman said.
Oye has also filed a complaint with ICBC, which confirmed with Black Press Media in a statement it is aware of the allegations against Wallace and is looking into the matter. The statement also said until an investigation is complete, Wallace has agreed to suspend his driving lessons and stay away from any ICBC sites or premises where driving students may be present.
“This is a very serious matter and we strongly advise anyone with concerns to take those to local law enforcement as soon as possible. We have also reached out to the Victoria Police Department,” the statement concluded.
If the allegations are substantiated, ICBC will have the choice to suspend or revoke Wallace’s licence or the licence of his school. Oye has been clear though, her only concerns are with Wallace, not with the school’s other driving instructors.
Wallace did not respond to an interview request from Black Press Media.
His well-known weekly driving column with the Times Colonist has been suspended, the newspaper published in a Sept. 9 story.
Drive Wise BC, which also has a driving school in Greater Victoria, announced Thursday (Sept. 9) it will be installing optional cameras in all its vehicles following conversations with their own students and instructors. Use of the cameras will be optional for students and the footage will be securely stored for a limited time after the lesson.
“We’re determined that our industry will rise to this occasion and work together to ensure that students are always safe and never have to be put in the position of feeling they have something to report,” owner Kate Harris said in a statement.
Black Press Media reached out to Wallace Driving School to see if they will consider doing the same, but have received no response.
For resources and help dealing with sexual assault or harassment, visit the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre at vsac.ca or call 250-383-3232.
Anonymous driving-related complaints can be made to ICBC at http://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/driver-training/Pages/Complaints.aspx.
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