MONTREAL -- A theatre teacher at a major Quebec college is no longer teaching this fall after more than two dozen former students alleged that he harassed or bullied them.

But the Dawson College grads who made the accusations against Winston Sutton—including one who said she had an affair with him starting at her graduation party—say they still want answers.

Major players in the Quebec theatre world have begun to rally around the students, and the school says it’s “listening to the complaints” and is investigation the allegations, which it deems “extremely serious.”

The former students were age 17 to 19, attending CEGEP at Dawson, when they got to know Sutton. Some told CTV News that he made sexual comments to them.

“He said that I should use a dildo and my fingers to pleasure myself,” said Grace Gordon, one former theatre student at Dawson.

“I remember very clearly him telling me to go home and open the faucet and let the water drip on myself and to try to experiment with other objects,” said Mara Lazaris, who attended the same program.

Another, Kayleigh Choiniere, recalled Sutton “looking into my eyes and holding my face and saying ‘You’re beautiful, but you are cold and hard and damaged.’”

Some of the allegations go back as far as 10 years, and they have trickled out over the past three years.

Now, one student has come forward saying that she and Sutton had a relationship after she graduated in 2010—starting at her graduation party.

“He gave me a very short kiss which, at the time, seemed accidental,” Irina Ghitulescu said. “We both seemed very shocked that that just happened.”

The complaints against Sutton include public humiliation, inappropriate comments about students’ weight and looks, and suggestions that the students undress for each other.

Sutton has not returned any of CTV’s calls or emails asking for comment.

He was suspended in 2017 but returned to teaching a short time later. Now, Dawson says he has stopped teaching again, though it didn’t clarify under what circumstances.

“Mr. Sutton has not taught at Dawson College since Aug. 31, the first day of the Fall 2020 Semester,” said Dawson’s director, Richard Filion, in a statement Friday afternoon.

“I wish to…assure the public that the College is listening to the complaints. Silence does not mean the College is not acting,” he wrote.

“The allegations were deemed extremely serious, which led the College to launch an investigation,” he wrote, but the investigation “ must proceed” according to the procedures and timelines laid out in the teachers’ labour agreement. 

“Once this process has come to a conclusion within the timelines set by the Collective Agreement, Dawson College will share its decision with the public,” Filion said.

Some of the students have been frustrated by the school’s response so far. They weren’t just posting about their experiences online but also emailing the college directly—so much so, it seems, that the theatre department asked them to stop.

The department posted on its Facebook page that “we respectfully ask that you stop emailing faculty regarding this matter, as we cannot legally comment.”

The post was taken down a short time later and the account closed. When CTV News asked why, it got no explanation. 

Sutton’s former students say they want him removed from the faculty altogether. They said they plan to keep pressuring the school.

At least three major institutions in the Montreal theatre scene have spoken in support of the former students.

The Segal Centre posted on Facebook that “we see you, we believe you, we stand with you and we applaud you for being the true agents for change.” 

“Theatre should be nurtured from the time you discover it as a kid until you graduate from college, and then you enter a world that’s free of toxicity and is a safe haven for everyone,” said Lisa Rubin, the Segal Centre’s executive director.

“These women are raising their voices because they don’t have the confidence that their experiences won’t be repeated.”

On Friday, other organizations in the theatre world also publicly supported the Dawson grads. ACTRA Montreal called them "brave" in a Facebook post, while the Quebec Drama Federation said it sent a letter in their support to the Dawson dean in charge of the theatre program.

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Posted by ACTRA Montreal on Friday, September 11, 2020


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