Business

Victoria driving instructor and columnist Steve Wallace accused of sexually harassing teenage students

Wallace denies the allegations, saying comments and actions were misinterpreted

Business

Victoria driving instructor and columnist Steve Wallace accused of sexually harassing teenage students

Wallace denies the allegations, saying comments and actions were misinterpreted

James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Business

Victoria driving instructor and columnist Steve Wallace accused of sexually harassing teenage students

Wallace denies the allegations, saying comments and actions were misinterpreted

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Victoria driving instructor and columnist Steve Wallace accused of sexually harassing teenage students
James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Minutes into her first driving lesson with Steve Wallace, Kianna Aiko Oye, 18, felt a pit begin to grow in her stomach. 

Oye, who is of Japanese descent, says that Wallace, the 72-year-old owner of Wallace Driving School, asked her “what [she] was” and proceeded to say that he had visited Japan and found the people there polite and good, “unlike the Chinese.”

From there, she said that he began to comment on her appearance—her “movie star” eyes, that she was “model material” when she took off her mask, how “mature” she was for her age—and put his hand on hers while it was on the wheel. He pulled out his wallet to show her business cards for all of the people in power he knew, she says.

Oye says he told her “I love you” about 15 times—whenever she made a good turn, or even when she did nothing at all. Throughout the lesson, she was tense, scared, and unsure of how to respond.

“It was very unprofessional,” she said. “I never thought that would happen in a setting where… I'm supposed to be safe.”

At the end of the lesson, he told her to make sure to book the remainder of her classes with him—telling her, she said, that the other instructors had tried to “keep [her] to themselves.”

Oye was initially hesitant to tell her family about her distressing encounter with Wallace, as he owned the driving school company and had made his position of power in the community clear to her.

“I was scared of saying something because my parents paid thousands of dollars for me to even be in those classes,” she said.

After deciding to tell her mother and sister, she heard from her sister that she wasn’t alone—friends of her sister had privately shared their own allegations of similar events taking place during their own time with him at Wallace Driving School. That’s when she decided to create an an  Instagram account, @wallacedrivingschoolvictims, to amplify allegations of sexual harassment from herself and others with similar stories. 

“I want people to know about this so that nobody else is put in that position again,” Oye said. “It's super uncomfortable, it's super upsetting, and it's scary.” 

In the three days it’s been active, the Instagram account has received more than 40 individual allegations of sexual harassment against Wallace dating back to his time as the driver education coordinator at the school district in Quesnel in 1986. According to the Wallace Driving School website, Wallace has taught more than 25,000 students how to drive over the course of his career. 

In a brief interview with Capital Daily on Friday, Wallace said a statement was forthcoming on Saturday or Sunday morning, which would be “a mea culpa.” No statement was released Saturday, and when Capital Daily reached him on Sunday afternoon his position had changed. 

“I have to tell you that I did not do anything that was invasive,” Wallace said over the phone. “I just want people to know that it's a learning experience and I think that people are a lot more sensitive these days to that kind of behavior. So my apologies if the person is upset.”

Amanda Windle, Oye’s mother, immediately filed a complaint with the company and requested a full refund of about $1,500 for Oye’s driving classes, which had spanned nearly a year. Shortly after, her request was met with an email from Joan Wallace, Steve Wallace’s wife and co-founder of Wallace Driving School.

“I will be continuing this conversation with all parties to make this right,” wrote Joan. “I agree something has to be done. Your refund will be in the works shortly.”

However, Windle says they have yet to receive a refund, and she has not heard back from Joan about the matter since Sept. 3.

“I'm proud of [my daughter] for coming forward and for being open and vulnerable so that the other women feel safe to do the same,” Windle said. “But it's devastating and heartbreaking.”

Allegations of harassment and inappropriate touching

Capital Daily spoke to eight young women who allege Wallace sexually harassed them during driving lessons, while they were between the ages of 16 and 18. He has also been accused of sexually harassing a woman in her forties at a professional event.

Each of the young women say they were alone with Wallace in the driving school car when they were harassed. 

In most accounts, the young women say they began to grow uncomfortable a few minutes into the lesson when Wallace would comment on their eyes and overall appearance. Some, like Oye, say he told them they looked “more mature” than other teenagers he knew. 

Many say he asked about their romantic relationships and their relationships with their parents; some said he touched their hands, shoulders, and legs while they were driving. He invited himself inside their homes to meet their parents, some of the driving school students say. 

In one of those instances, one woman says, "He made comments to my mom actually about how if I ever misbehaved, he didn’t have a daughter and would be happy to take me on."

Wallace says he remembers telling her, “I don't have a daughter. And this is great. You know? If I had one, I’d want one just like you.” 

Throughout the lessons—they each only took one from Wallace himself—several young women allege he told them he loved them and compared the lesson to their first date. 

The former students say that during some of the lessons, Wallace had them pull over and then he pulled down his mask so they could see his face before asking that they do the same. 

At the end of a lesson with a 17-year-old, she says he told her he “couldn’t believe that we were just meeting now, and that we were soulmates and it was selfish of me not to book with him earlier.”

“I was so anxious the whole time and was so happy to get out of that car,” she said. “Steve is constantly on a weird power trip.” 

One young woman who asked not to be named shared that during her first and only lesson with Steve Wallace, at age 16, he asked her to pull into the driveway of a gated apartment building in James Bay. Wallace then told her to park and follow him into the building, saying he needed to “make a quick stop.” Nervous and unsure what to do, she left her phone and backpack behind in the trunk of the car and followed him into the building.

Wallace proceeded to bring her to his friend’s apartment, she said, where he and his friend discussed how beautiful they found her, asked her to guess the cost of objects in the room, and laughed at her discomfort. In total, she remembers being in the apartment for 20 to 30 minutes. When she finally arrived back at home later than the scheduled lesson, she found her mother panicked.

Wallace says he can’t recall having done that. “The only time I would do that is if I had to go to the washroom or … I couldn't get to a washroom or whatever,” he said.

She says his interest in her didn’t end when her lessons were complete—and that Wallace, after learning she had passed her driving test, called her home phone number and asked her mother if he could speak with her, saying it was a standard congratulatory call. Her mother refused, saying her older child had received no such call when they passed their test. When questioned by the young woman’s mother about why he brought her into his friend’s apartment, she says Wallace told her it was “community integration.”

Most of those who have come forward with allegations say that while they shared their experiences with friends and family at the time, they never formally complained to the driving school or local authorities. When discussing the allegations with their parents, several young women said they downplayed the incident out of embarrassment and because they figured he would not face repercussions as the business owner and a prominent community figure. 

“The way he said things was very flirty and uncomfortable as he was an older man and I was a young teenage girl,” one of the young women said. 

A few of the young women who spoke to Capital Daily said they decided to complete their remaining scheduled lessons at Wallace Driving School, making sure to never book with Wallace himself again.

Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

‘Best in the business’

Many of the former students said Wallace’s status and connections in the Greater Victoria community made them reluctant to publicly complain about his behaviour. 

He began his career as a certified teacher for elementary and secondary school students in Quesnel, BC where he also served as mayor for 12 years. He also served as president of the Union of BC Municipalities for three years, and ran as a candidate for the BC Liberals in 2005. 

Quesnel is also where he and his wife, Joan, started their driving school business, before bringing it to Victoria. Here, he has been a member of local chambers of commerce, attained numerous accolades—including an ‘Outstanding Customer Service Award’ from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce in 2019—and run a popular weekly column in the Times Colonist newspaper for the past decade. He is also a frequent commentator on CBC and CHEK News on driving-related stories.

These are the kinds of accomplishments that each of the young women say Wallace made sure to discuss, sometimes at length, during the driving lessons. 

“​​He would not stop talking about how much money and connections he had during the whole drive, which made it easier for me to keep the conversation about him instead of me (he loves talking about himself),” one of the young women, who asked not to be named, wrote in an email. “When the lesson was finished he made me sit in the car for an extra 10 minutes just so I could hear his phone call with CFAX radio about some sort of ad deal. He told me that it would be worth $10,000.”

Another young student, who also requested that she not be named, said the first thing Wallace did when she met him for her lesson was reach behind him in the car and pull out a magazine that had his photo in it, by way of introduction. 

He handed her a laudatory profile in Douglas Magazine calling him the ‘best in the business.’ (Since the publication of this story, Douglas Magazine has removed the profile from its website.) In the article, and in one written by him for the Times Colonist about graduated licensing in BC, Wallace presents himself as a staunch advocate for the safety of young women. 

“It’s a matter of personal safety for young girls being in a car and not having to walk 10 blocks through a sketchy part of town,” he’s quoted as saying in the Douglas Magazine article. “That is why I am vehemently opposed to the display of the ‘N’ on the back of cars, because I think it exposes young girls’ safety when they are driving alone at night.”

Some of the young women say the real threat lay within Wallace’s vehicle—but that is not the only setting in which he has been accused of “creepy” behaviour.

About five years ago, Dorothy, an educator in her forties whose name has been changed upon request to protect her identity, was invited to be a speaker at a Union Club of BC event. When she arrived at the venue, she says Wallace—with whom she was acquainted from interactions at various other events in town—waved her over to his table where he had saved her a seat.

“I sit down beside him and then he gives me this leery, creepy smile [and] puts his entire hand on my upper right thigh—his fingers are like two inches from my crotch,” she said. “I could feel myself go rigid.”

Wallace denies the encounter happened or that he was ever made aware of such a claim before now. 

With his hand on her thigh, she says Wallace proceeded to lean in and tell her, “You look like you're dressed for a Saints and Sinners party.”

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She says she then picked his hand off of her, put it on the table, and said to him, “I don’t understand. What do you mean?” Wallace’s smile began to fade, she said, as Dorothy kept up her pretense of not knowing what he meant. 

Over the course of the event, Dorothy says she tried to steer herself away from Wallace as much as possible, but it was difficult because they were seated close together at the table with about eight other people. Dorothy found the interaction so unsettling that she left the event as soon as her speech was done.

“After it happened, I had a chat with some other women who were my age in town and they all shared similar things,” she said. “That he’s a creep, his eyes undress you, he loves to hug women.”

She also says she immediately told her family—her partner and two children—what he had done to her. In response, her soon-to-be-ex partner urged her to remain quiet.

“Don’t make trouble for me,” he told her, emphasizing that Wallace has a good reputation in the community and is an advertiser at various media companies. Despite knowing about the harassment,  he still pushed her to enroll their teenage daughter at Wallace Driving School, Dorothy says, because the family would get a discount.

“We ensured that Steve Wallace wasn’t the driver, but I was still pissed off that we used his business,” she said. “This is one of the reasons why I'm no longer with this guy.”

Dorothy’s teenage daughter was the one who showed her the “Wallace Driving School” victims Instagram account and the outpouring of sexual harassment allegations against Wallace. 

“[When] I looked at it...my heart sank. To see these young women trapped in a car with him really just made me feel sick,” she said. “I hope there's a reckoning for him. I hate that he has a column in the local rag.

“Gone are the days of us smiling and thinking ‘you gotta stay away from this person’ or ‘you need to be careful about what you wear around this person.’ How about, these people shut their mouths, and not think that they can comment on our bodies or say things that are unsafe to us.”

Wallace responds

Wallace’s column in the Times Colonist may now be a thing of the past.

“I spoke with him after I saw the allegations,” said Dave Obee, editor and publisher of the newspaper, in an email. “He told me that he was suspending his column.”

Obee said he learned about the allegations against Wallace in an email Friday morning. “We take allegations such as this very seriously. There should be no tolerance for inappropriate behaviour in any workplace,” he said.

Oye’s mom, Windle, told Capital Daily that she has also filed a complaint against Wallace Driving School with the Better Business Bureau. No complaints against the company have appeared on the Better Business Bureau website as of the time of publication. 

Rosalind Scott, president and CEO of the Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau, said she couldn’t confirm that a complaint was logged by Windle, but explained that the complaint process takes more time.

“When somebody puts forward a complaint, we allow the business to respond because sometimes the businesses aren't aware of the problem, and they can fix it,” Scott said. 

For his part, Wallace said he expects to issue a formal statement in response to the allegations on his website over the long weekend. 

“The essence [of the statement] is going to be an apology,” he said in a phone call with Capital Daily on Friday. “It will be a mea culpa and I’m really sorry this thing happened. ​​I just have to pay attention more and I can't be led on by introductory comments either.”

In that conversation, he said he also intends to issue an apology through his column in the Times Colonist in the near future.

However on Sunday, Wallace said his statement will indicate that the allegations are “not true.” 

“When you're doing driving instruction, there are a number of times when you must intervene as far as a student is concerned,” Wallace said when questioned about allegations of inappropriate touching. “There are times when you have to grab a leg and pull it off the brake when you're being threatened from behind.”

“If people have any problems, they can give us a call and we can explain it to them. But in this case, that didn't happen.”

An emailed statement from Wallace Driving School, written by Wallace himself in response to the complaint lodged by Windle, said the company is reaching out to her on Sunday for a conversation. 

Windle confirmed Sunday evening that she received an email from Wallace Driving School in which Joan Wallace calls Oye’s experience during the lesson a “terrible ordeal.” 

“I know this must be difficult for you both and I appreciate the effort you took to let us know of your stress and disappointment,” Wallace wrote in the email, further asking Windle to give her a call on her cell.

Oye and Windle told Capital Daily they will not be calling the company, and that they want all correspondence with the Wallaces to take place over email.   

Wallace, in his email to Capital Daily, denied any knowledge of the incident at the Union Club that Dorothy described. He also said allegations of him saying “I love you” to a student were misinterpreted.

“I said that in error,” he wrote. “To the student who told us she felt uncomfortable, we are very sorry it was misinterpreted as malicious. That was not the intention. It was meant to compliment the executing of a skill in a good form.”

When asked if he had ever made comments about a student’s eyes or commented on their attractiveness, he said he had, but that “this may have been received in an unintended way.”

“Sometimes you want to compliment people, so that can happen,” he added in a phone call. 

Wallace had indicated that a full statement would be up on the company’s website by Sunday at the latest. No such statement has been issued as of the time of publication.

‘Standing stronger’

The Instagram account has already brought relief and validation to many of those with similar stories to tell. 

Resoundingly, the young women who spoke to Capital Daily said they are hopeful this will result in accountability for Wallace and individuals who use their positions of power against others.

“I hope this humbles him and I genuinely hope he changes for the better,” one of the young women said. “​​I hope that through this account, victims will feel empowered to speak up for themselves and others if this happens again.”

Wallace says his driving school has a sexual harassment policy. Capital Daily requested a copy but at time of publishing it has not been provided. The Driving School Association of the Americas (DSAA) has no regulations about sexual assault or harassment in its Code of Ethics. Wallace himself has served as the Western Canadian vice-president of the DSAA in the past—a position that is currently held by his wife. 

Yet a quick Google search is enough to yield dozens of results showing examples of sexual harassment and sexual assault perpetrated by driving school instructors across North America and beyond.

Beyond the women who have shared their allegations with Oye directly, additional people have come forward in the comments section of the Instagram posts to recount their own experiences with Wallace—some of which they say mirror the posted stories “word for word.” 

“When things like this happen to young women, you always question your own personal involvement in the situation—you ask what you did wrong or if you should have spoken up sooner,” said Oye. “I created the account to make a community for those who were afraid or questioning themselves so we could all stand stronger and it’s been much more widespread than I ever suspected.”

One thing that has become clear to Oye as she’s fielded allegations from dozens of people over the past week is that this outpouring was long overdue.

This story is still developing, and now includes a second in-depth feature regarding Wallace's past in Quesnel. If you have information relevant to our reporting, you can contact us at tips@capitaldaily.ca

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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