Business

Steve Wallace had a reputation for sexually harassing teenage girls in Quesnel decades before launching his Victoria driving school

As Wallace rose through Quesnel—from teacher, to mayor, to provincial candidate—more than a dozen women say he was sexually harassing them in school, in cars, and in beauty pageants

Business

Steve Wallace had a reputation for sexually harassing teenage girls in Quesnel decades before launching his Victoria driving school

As Wallace rose through Quesnel—from teacher, to mayor, to provincial candidate—more than a dozen women say he was sexually harassing them in school, in cars, and in beauty pageants

Steve Wallace, right, sits with then-Premier Ujjal Dosanjh in 2000. Photo: Quesnel Cariboo Observer / Quesnel Museum
Business

Steve Wallace had a reputation for sexually harassing teenage girls in Quesnel decades before launching his Victoria driving school

As Wallace rose through Quesnel—from teacher, to mayor, to provincial candidate—more than a dozen women say he was sexually harassing them in school, in cars, and in beauty pageants

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Steve Wallace had a reputation for sexually harassing teenage girls in Quesnel decades before launching his Victoria driving school
Steve Wallace, right, sits with then-Premier Ujjal Dosanjh in 2000. Photo: Quesnel Cariboo Observer / Quesnel Museum

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual harassment and assault

After 20 years of silence, Donna first shared her story at a Subway in 1999. She was working in  the franchise of the restaurant chain in Quesnel, BC, a town she has lived in all her life, when an 18-year-old girl came in, visibly shaken up after a driving lesson with Steve Wallace. At the time, he was the mayor and one of the few driving instructors in town.  

The allegations of harassment and abuses of power shared by the young woman echoed the experiences that Donna herself had been too afraid to report since her own week of driving lessons with Wallace at age 18 in 1979: his hands on her chest and thigh, the unwanted and uncomfortable comments on her appearance, and the underlying pressure to take things further. 

She was shocked and horrified, said Donna, to hear another young woman had gone through experiences similar to her own—while Wallace’s position in the community had only grown stronger.

“I just [couldn’t] believe that he's still getting away with it,” Donna said. 

But there were many more people with stories to tell than just Donna and the young woman she met that day. In total, 12 women spoke with Capital Daily for this story; all but four have agreed to put their names to their allegations. Donna’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Now, more than 40 years after her experience with Wallace, Donna is glad to finally see former driving students speaking publicly about their allegations that Wallace sexually harassed them. She remains frustrated, however, that these allegations have taken decades to prompt a widespread response from the community.

Since Capital Daily first published an investigation into the more than 40 allegations of sexual harassment against Steve Wallace, owner of Steve Wallace Driving School and prominent Victoria media commentator, dozens more people have come forward with allegations dating back to 1978, during his time as the driver education coordinator and teacher at Correlieu Secondary School in Quesnel. He was also the mayor of the city for much of this time.

The allegations first came to light through an Instagram account created by Aiko Oye, a former student of Wallace’s who says he sexually harassed her at a driving lesson in August. At time of writing, more than 60 women have come to her with allegations. 

ICBC is currently investigating some of these allegations and told Capital Daily that Wallace, 72, has agreed to stop teaching driving lessons, and also promised to not be in any premises where driving students are present, while the investigation is ongoing. Oye told Capital Daily that multiple women have also filed sexual harassment complaints against Steve Wallace with the Victoria Police Department, and that police have told them they are investigating. 

Capital Daily has now spoken to more than 20 women who say they were between 16 and 89 years old when Wallace sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them. 

Many of their stories echo the ones shared by Wallace Driving School students in Victoria, but some take an even darker turn. The women who came forward for this article talk about Wallace trying to forcefully hug or kiss them, pinch or rub their butt, caress their chest and inner thigh during driving lessons, and more. 

Each story has a common theme: the women all said they felt an immense sense of relief that Wallace’s patterns of sexually harassing young girls and women for decades are finally being brought to light. 

For decades, many have kept their stories to themselves out of fear they would not be investigated or taken seriously. But the recent outpouring of allegations has brought the validation and a chance at accountability that these women have been hoping for.

“Everybody deserves justice, no matter how long ago it was,” said Jessica Pollard, a former student who alleges Wallace sexually harassed her during a 2011 driving lesson.

‘I’ve never forgotten’

Kirsten Ernst was 16 or 17 years old in the early 1980s, when she encountered Wallace at a local store in Quesnel. She says she was looking at a rack of clothes when she felt someone come up behind her and pinch her butt. 

“I thought it was just a friend joking around, so I looked to see who it was,” Ernst said. “​​It was [Wallace] and he just kind of was grinning, and we didn't exchange any words.”

In the early 80s and 90s, Ernst says it was common knowledge for young girls in Quesnel to be wary of Wallace—then in his 30s and early 40s—and that she and several of her friends were targets of his inappropriate touching and sexual remarks. 

After hearing about the recent allegations last week, she said, “I was shocked that he's continuing this behavior after such a long time. Back in the 80s, for us, these kinds of things happened all the time. And nowhere, no one reported them.”

Those who took drivers’ education lessons from Wallace remember his disturbing behaviour not just in the vehicle, but also in classrooms full of students. 

Kelly Dunn first met Wallace around 1978 when he was teaching her high school drivers’ education class at Correlieu Secondary School in Quesnel. On her first day in that class, Wallace called her up to the front of the room to help hand out papers to the rest of the class. 

She says when she got to his desk, he stood up, walked around to the front of the desk, dropped his pen, and then asked her to pick it up.

“When I went to bend over to pick it up, I noticed that...his eyes were travelling to my chest, and I looked down and my T-shirt was gaping,” Dunn said, who was wearing jeans and a scooped neck T-shirt that day. She remembers trying to hold on to the front of her T-shirt while picking up the pen.

“[When] I went and I sat at my desk, the girl behind me said to me, ‘In this classroom, never wear a dress and never wear a scooped neck because he will do that to you in any way he can all of the time,’” Dunn said. “I remember just feeling so gross, because he'd intentionally done that and… some of the guys [were] snickering because they knew.”

The ogling would continue during classes, she says, when Wallace walked over to see what students were working on at their desks. 

“If he came to where you were working, [he would] maybe touch your thigh, just stand really close, and… bend over. You felt like he was looking over your shoulder at your boobs,” she said. 

“It was just constant. I've never forgotten. It was just something you dreaded every time you had to go to class.”

Donna remembers that she “spent the week fighting him off” during her driving lessons—starting from the moment she got in the car. 

Without her consent, he leaned across and buckled her seatbelt, running his hand across her chest in a way that immediately made her uncomfortable. For the rest of the week, she made sure to buckle herself in as fast as she could so as to not give him another opportunity. Donna also said Wallace put his hand on her thigh while she was driving and rubbed it down her leg, telling her she needed to “put more pressure on the brake.”

​​In response to allegations of inappropriate touching during lessons, Wallace previously told Capital Daily that he believes there are times when an instructor has to “intervene as far as a student is concerned.”

“There are times when you have to grab a leg and pull it off the brake when you're being threatened from behind,” he said.

However, Donna and many other women who spoke with Capital Daily say they do not believe this touching was appropriate or necessary under the circumstances, and that no other driving instructors had physically touched them in that way. 

On the final day of the weeklong lessons, Donna says he asked her, “Would you be willing to go park with me down a gravel road?’” Asking someone to “go park” was commonly understood at the time to mean that Wallace wanted to “fool around with” her, Donna said.

She refused, but she says he persisted.

“He said, ‘Your sister did it with me, I don't understand why you won’t,’” Donna said. Later, Donna’s sister told her she never “parked” with Wallace.

More than 40 years after those harrowing lessons, Donna says, “I remember those three things as if it happened yesterday, and I remember just how each one made me feel.”

By the late 1990s, Wallace’s prominence in the community had grown significantly. He was elected mayor of Quesnel in 1990 and became vice-chair of the Union of BC Municipalities by 1996, according to the local newspaper archives. An article published in 2002 describes him as "the man who pretty much defined Quesnel politics for the past decade,” and the paper’s coverage of Wallace’s political career is full of praise. 

No evidence of predatory behaviour can be found in the newspaper's archives, but after Capital Daily’s investigation of Wallace, many women from the 1980s came forward saying his conduct was widely known in Quesnel. One of them is Stephanie Boyko, a former driving student who created a Tik Tok video—which she also posted on Facebook—of herself talking about the article and the allegations. 

In parts of the video, Boyko addresses Wallace directly, saying “‘Sexual harassment’ wasn’t a thing and you made us young girls think we wouldn’t be taken seriously. Quesnel wasn’t that big in the ‘80s, but pretty much everyone heard the whispers.” 

Boyko told Capital Daily she personally knew at least 15 young girls in Quesnel who had a “Steve Wallace story to tell” long before any allegations were made public. After seeing news coverage of Wallace’s behaviour in Victoria, she says more women—some of whom she knew for years but never knew about their encounters with Wallace—have shared their stories with her. 

Boyko’s “Steve Wallace story” happened when she was 16 and taking a driving lesson with him. During the first lesson, she says he spent the hourlong drive letting her know how powerful he was in Quesnel and name-dropping influential people in the city he was close with (a pattern that would be repeated in the more recent allegations against Wallace). Boyko says he spent the next two lessons telling her how good looking and “hot” she was, and also rating the appearances of her teenage friends.

“He even was so disgusting as to point out one of my really good friends and say ‘she would be prettier if she lost weight,’” she said. Over the next few lessons, Wallace tried to put his hand on her knee while she was driving. “I just looked at him and said, ‘You don't have to touch me, all you gotta do is tell me. I'll figure it out,’” Boyko said.

On the last day of her lessons with Wallace, Boyko had an hour left before her driving exam, for which she would be using Wallace’s vehicle. They agreed to drive to downtown Quesnel, where she would spend that hour going to the bank and running other errands, before meeting him back at the car. But when she got out of the car, Boyko says Wallace ran around to meet her and told her to take his keys. 

When she asked him why she would need his keys, she recalls that he replied, “I'm so well known in this town that if people see you with my keys, they're gonna recognize that, and they’ll think you and I are having an affair and that’d be really good for your reputation.” 

She responded by saying no, handing him back the keys, and telling him firmly that they would just meet back at the vehicle as discussed.

A decade later, as Lisa Richardson drove down the streets of 1990s Quesnel, she said Wallace made the same types of comments as he did to Boyko, which she found “extremely disturbing”: talking about his reputation, giving his perspective on her appearance and what she was wearing, and even sharing what he thought about the appearance and outfits of other underage girls they passed on the street.

“He was very open, he didn't hide who he was—unless, of course, there were certain other adults around,” said Richardson, who says she was 16 years old at the time of her driving lessons.

Richardson ultimately asked her parents to end her lessons with Wallace after one lesson where he made her take an hour and a half drive 76 kilometers outside of Quesnel to McLeese Lake. When she asked him why they were driving that far, she says he told her it was a nice day so he “wanted to go for a nice drive.”

To this day, Richardson and other former students say their parents feel guilty for not helping them hold Wallace accountable for these allegations earlier.

“My parents were like, ‘We're so sorry, we should have done something,’” she said. “[But] back in those days, that wasn't really spoken about and one person's story wasn’t actually going to do it unless you had more. I think that's one of the reasons why nothing was ever done.” 

Miss Quesnel 

The allegations against Wallace extend far beyond his time spent in classrooms and driving lessons. Two women associated with the Miss Quesnel Self Development Society in the late 1990s say he sexually harassed one and sexually assaulted the other when they were in their late teens. Both reported the incidents to the coordinator in charge.

Sarah, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, was a Miss Quesnel ‘princess’ and participated in various events in Quesnel between the ages of 13 and 17, where Wallace was present in his capacity as mayor.

“He would make comments to me, always about how much he loved redheads and redheads were his favourite,” said Sarah, who has red hair. She brushed those comments off easily enough, but says Wallace persisted.

In the late 1990s, Sarah, who was 17 at the time, was a contestant at a Miss Quesnel speech and talent event. At the event, she says she was alone backstage before her speech when Wallace approached her.

“He put his arm around me, he kind of gave me a rub, and then reached down and rubbed my butt a couple of times,” Sarah said. “And he told me how flattering my dress looked and how great my body looked in it.”

Wallace then introduced Sarah on stage before her speech, but right after handing her the microphone, she says he went behind her and pinched her butt, making sure he couldn’t be seen. The incident left her in shock, but at the time she was on stage in front of an audience that expected a speech. 

“You can't do anything, you can't say anything. You're performing. So that was that,” she said.

Sarah ran into Wallace again a few months later at a senior’s luncheon in Quesnel, where then-BC Premier Ujjal Dosanjh was also present. She says Wallace was introducing her and other “princesses” from the Miss Quesnel society to the premier when he made another inappropriate remark.

According to Sarah, he told the premier, “These ones are trouble, though. This redhead especially tried to leave her clothes at my house last night,” before laughing it off as a joke.

Megan Crofts, who was the Miss Quesnel pageant “queen”, at the time in her mid-teens, remembers a similar incident at the same event. Crofts says she wanted to introduce herself to the premier at the event, and walked up to where he and Wallace were talking. 

Before she could do more than introduce herself, Crofts says Wallace interjected: “Why don't you come back over and pick up the lingerie that you left on my bedroom floor last night?” 

“It kind of disgusted me,” Crofts said. “I also felt extremely embarrassed that someone would be suggesting that I was engaging in that kind of behavior.”

After hearing Wallace’s comments at this luncheon, Sarah reported her experiences with him to Rae Perry, then-president of the Miss Quesnel Self Development Society, while Crofts decided to write a letter to the mayor’s office—Wallace’s office—outlining what he had said to her. Crofts never heard back from Wallace, but Perry did. 

“Megan's mother came to me, very concerned about something that Steve had said to Megan,” Perry told Capital Daily. After Croft’s mother explained what had happened, Perry said she consulted a lawyer and then wrote a letter to Wallace. 

“[Wallace] contacted me and asked me to meet with him,” Perry said. “I went to City Hall and met with him in his office. I explained that I was concerned that people would take comments of this nature the wrong way, and that it could affect his reputation.” His response, she says, was to blame the teenage girls. According to Perry, he told her, “They said something first,” and that Wallace was simply responding to their advances.

When Capital Daily reached out to Steve Wallace on Sept. 3 for comment about the sexual harassment allegations in Victoria, he said, “​​I just have to pay attention more and I can't be led on by introductory comments either.” 

Perry says she kept a much closer eye on Wallace once she was made aware of his behaviour. “I made sure if we were at an event and he was there, I just watched him,” she said. “And if he went near my girls, I made sure I was there.”

Wallace Driving School has expanded to become the biggest in the city, earning Wallace a prominent position in local media. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

More Victoria women speak out 

According to ICBC records, in 2008, Wallace and his wife, Joan, moved Wallace Driving School to Victoria. He later expanded the school and became a prominent media commentator. In new allegations shared with Capital Daily, former students say Wallace continued to use his position in the company and community to harass and sexually assault them up through to this year.

Erin, whose real name we are withholding at her request, had driving lessons through Wallace Driving School in 2010 when she was 16. She says the trouble didn’t begin until her final lesson—her first with Wallace himself. He repeatedly touched her thigh and hand while she drove, she says.

“It was an automatic car—it wasn't even standard, I didn’t need help changing gears—but every time, he put his hand on my hand and would hold my hand,” Erin said.

When they returned to Erin’s house at the end of the lesson, Wallace followed her to the front door of her house. Erin’s mother opened the door, and when Wallace spotted Erin’s golf clubs just inside the entryway, she says he invited her to play golf with him that weekend. Erin says she declined, but Wallace continued to persistently offer up alternative times for them to play.

“Every day that he mentioned—it was probably three different days—I said, ‘Nope, no, I'm working or no, I'm doing this, I'm doing that,’” she said. “Then he left, but I just remember him being very pushy [about wanting to go golfing together].”

Jessica Pollard recalls a similar lesson with Wallace in 2011, when she was also 16. While she was alone in the car with Wallace driving around downtown Victoria, Pollard says he reached over and began rubbing her inner thigh and repeatedly telling her “you’re so beautiful.”

“That's when the sense of danger kicked in,” said Pollard.

After the lesson, Wallace phoned Pollard’s mother and told her that she “should have had more daughters” because of how attractive 16-year-old Pollard was. Pollard’s mother refused to let him speak to her daughter, and booked Pollard’s final driving lessons with female instructors. 

One former employee for the City of Victoria who worked concessions at Victoria HarbourCats games and requested her name be withheld, who we are referring to by the pseudonym Rachel, said she grew used to Wallace making comments on the appearance of her and other female staff working at the arena. As a sponsor, he was a frequent presence at the games, she said.

“It was kind of creepy, but nothing that you could really report or say [anything about]; it was just kind of uncomfortable,” Rachel said.

One night, long after the Royal Athletic Park had closed and she thought all guests had left for the night, Rachel was waiting in the darkened parking lot for her dad to pick her up after her shift. She didn’t realize someone had come up behind her until she says Wallace leaned in and whispered in her ear, “If I was your boyfriend, I'd never make you wait.”

Rachel was alarmed, caught off guard, and unsure what to do as Wallace walked away. 

“It was just really creepy, really unsettling, and just kind of intimidating,” she reflects now, 10 years later.

At the time, since she was about 19, Rachel doubted that reporting her experience would lead to anything, so she never mentioned it to HarbourCats staff or her employers.

Jean Moore, the oldest woman to come forward with allegations so far at 89 years old, says that she was “flabbergasted” to discover that allegations against Wallace date back more than 40 years. She met Wallace at a driving lesson in May, which she scheduled to brush up before renewing her drivers license. 

Wallace’s behaviour throughout the lesson, Moore says, carried “a real ick factor” as he commented on her appearance and told her “be gentle with me” multiple times. When they got out of the car at the end of the lesson, however, she says he became physical with her.

“He grabbed me and hugged me and was trying to kiss me,” Moore said. “I was able, of course, to twist away.”

Moore says that the impact of his actions stayed with her for weeks afterwards. Although she says she wasn’t scared, what troubled her most besides his actions was the feeling “that I wasn't in control at all.”

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Lasting consequences

While Moore’s experience happened relatively recently, many of the women who spoke to Capital Daily for this article have waited decades to share their stories. What inspired and empowered some of them to come forward now is 18-year-old Aiko Oye and others who paved the way.

Reading the allegations in Capital Daily, Boyko said, felt “almost like [opening] a personal Pandora's box, something you just kind of shoved down in the pit of your stomach.” It gave her flashbacks of her time with Wallace and she felt overwhelmed with the realization that so many other women had gone through what she and her friends had.

“All of us want to just let these girls know that they have no idea how many people are standing behind them… we are all so proud of them,” Boyko said of the women who came forward with the initial allegations against Wallace. “We just want to let these younger women coming forward know that they're not crazy. They're not overreacting. This all happened to quite a few of us."

Sarah found the young girls’ allegations against Wallace in recent years shockingly similar to what she heard from friends who had taken driving lessons with him in Quesnel in the ‘90s. 

“I couldn't believe it when I was reading those testimonials because [I heard] the exact same thing happening from people in Quesnel—the hand on the leg, telling them they’re beautiful, asking about their relationships,” she said. “It just floored me.”

Over and over, Wallace’s position of power in the community comes up as a reason for why women did not come forward sooner. Those, like Crofts, who did tell other adults at the time found that nothing came of it.  

“I think gender plays a huge role,” Crofts said. “And that old boys’ club kind of mentality. He absolutely had no problem objectifying women.” She said Wallace made inappropriate comments often enough to create a culture where that type of behaviour was acceptable. 

Rae Perry agrees, adding that Wallace’s position as mayor of Quesnel protected him, acting as a deterrent for young girls who did not think their stories would be taken seriously. “I was extremely happy when he was voted out of office,” Perry said. “I didn't even care who did it. I just wanted him out.”

Kelly Dunn says she, like others, feels relieved these allegations are finally coming to light, but also anguished that so many women were targeted by Wallace before someone finally said something. 

“I don't remember there ever being a complaint [against Wallace],” Dunn said, remembering her time in the late 70s. “We just didn't think the same [about sexual harassment] back then. We really didn't.”

While sexualized violence and sexual harassment remain some of the most underreported crimes in Canada and around the world, there are more resources and services available today for those who experience them. In Victoria, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre is available to provide victim services and counselling support to anyone who has been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, or to people who may experience trauma as a result of these allegations coming to light. 

The allegations against Wallace have prompted another local driving school to take steps for its students’ safety. DriveWise committed to recording all lessons with student drivers, unless the students choose to opt out, after their survey of 200 students resulted in an overwhelmingly positive response in favor of the cameras. 

The recording devices, along with a fleet management system to track each of the cars, are expected to arrive this week. DriveWise owner Kate Harris says the footage will be stored for 100 hours in the short term for use in the event of a complaint, but going forward she hopes to also allow for students to review the footage with input from instructors as a teaching tool.

“What we've chosen to do at DriveWise is to recommit to educating students about the safety policies and procedures we have in place, including how to report to ICBC,” Harris said.

“We're going to continue to push our industry to face this issue and work together for the safety of our students.”

Wallace and his driving school are currently under investigation by both ICBC and Victoria Police. He has lost his weekly column at the Times Colonist, his teaching privileges have been temporarily suspended, and he has agreed to not be in any premises where driving students are present. Depending on the outcome of the ICBC investigation, Wallace could face permanent loss of his—or even his school’s—license to teach young drivers. ICBC has directed people to their complaints policy website for driver instructors or schools in case they wish to file a complaint against Wallace. 

After originally promising to issue a statement with an apology, Steve Wallace has denied the allegations made by Oye and the other young women who first came forward two weeks ago, and he has yet to make any public statements. Capital Daily has reached out to Steve Wallace and Wallace Driving School for further comment, informing them of the new allegations in this article. Neither have responded in time for publication. When reached on Sept. 4, he declined to address the possibility that there would be more allegations tied to his earlier time in Quesnel. 

“I can't comment on speculation,” he said. “I really can't.”

Some of those who recounted their experiences from that era say they want Wallace to face lasting consequences for his actions. 

“We want him to pay,” Boyko said. “We want him to realize that this was wrong. And we just want these girls to know that no matter what anybody says to them, they are not crazy and they're not overreacting. He's a predator.”

Wallace Driving School initially promised to issue Oye’s family a full $1,500 refund in response to their complaint that Wallace had sexually harassed Oye in her August driving lesson. But on Sept. 9, the company reached out to offer only $65—even though she had two lessons she never used following the one she says she was harassed in.

It’s been mentally draining for Oye over the past few weeks to read the dozens of stories that have come in to the Instagram account she created, @wallacedrivingschoolvictims, along with cooperating with the ICBC and Victoria Police investigations. She’s grateful to everyone who has reached out to her, but has not been immune to the traumatic impact of constantly submerging herself in these stories and the trauma others have struggled with for decades.

Throughout all of this, Oye—along with all of the other women who have come forward to share their stories with her and Capital Daily—is looking forward to the day when this is all over and they can find some form of justice. 

“What I've heard from other people was heartbreaking,” she said. “I'm genuinely just upset about, first of all, how uncomfortable he made me and how unprofessional he was, but also I'm carrying the weight of however many women have reached out to me, and I'm mad.”

Although she’s tired, she’s not giving up. With each new person who reaches out to her, Oye says, she grows more determined to see this through—so that finally, after more than 40 years, no more women will have to go through what she and so many others have. 

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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