Student found guilty in sexual assault at Toronto's St. Mike's school
Paola Loriggio and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, June 25, 2021 5:10AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 25, 2021 4:46PM EDT
TORONTO -- A teenager who held down another student during a violent sexual assault at an all-boys Catholic school in Toronto wasn't acting out of fear for his own safety and and could have opted not to participate, a judge ruled in finding him guilty Friday.
The teen, who was a student at the time, was found guilty of gang sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and assault in a November 2018 incident in which a boy was sexually assaulted in a locker room at St. Michael's College School after a football game.
The attack was captured on video and shared on social media, sparking a police investigation and a national discussion on hazing in sports.
During trial, the teen's lawyers argued he should be acquitted because he feared he would become the victim if he didn't participate. They said he was acting under duress when he held down the victim, who was sexually assaulted with a broom by two others.
The Crown argued, however, that there was no implied threat to the teen -- who had gone to the locker room to see friends -- that would meet the threshold for a defence of duress.
In a written ruling released Friday, Ontario Court judge Manjusha Pawagi sided with prosecutors, saying it would be "incredible" to suggest the accused would feel threatened by "calls from unidentified people gathered around the victim" that weren't singling him out to join in.
"While I accept the defendant's evidence that five people in the group on his shoulders and behind his back were yelling, 'grab him' and 'hold him,' the people making this alleged inferred threat did not use his name. And they were not the other attackers ... but rather bystanders, whom the defendant could not identify, who were not participating in the assault," she wrote,
"Presumably other people in the group heard those words as well. No other person in the group then acted on them to grab and hold the victim."
Even if the accused had, in fact, believed he faced an implicit threat, "the facts at their highest do not objectively establish that there was a threat directed at the defendant," Pawagi wrote.
She also pointed to some discrepancies in the teen's testimony, noting he initially told court he walked into the circle of boys, but later said he was pushed in.
The accused also described bullying at the private school as so pervasive and severe that students would "race" to leave after class to avoid being there without supervision. But his own account of that night showed he lingered after the game and waited for coaches to leave after they initially turned him away from the locker room, the judge said.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 10. The judge will also hear submissions on whether some of the charges should be stayed because they overlap.
The teen faced the same charges in a similar incident against another student that took place in October 2018, but those were withdrawn earlier this year after Pawagi found there was not enough evidence to proceed.
None of the minors involved in the trial, including the accused and several witnesses, can be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The two incidents sent shockwaves across the country when they came to light.
Seven students were charged. Six of those cases were resolved before the current trial began.
CAUTION: Graphic content may disturb some readers.
Police launched their investigation after the November 2018 incident.
At the time, a video circulating on social media appeared to show a sexual assault on a teenager by others who held him and down and repeatedly shoved a broom handle into his anus.
The video, played in court during trial, showed students yelling and laughing as the victim was sexually assaulted.
Testifying in his defence earlier this year, the teen told the court he had been bullied on four occasions at the school that fall -- incidents that involved being slammed on the ground and dragged around by his feet.
The accused said he ended up in the middle of a circle on the evening of Nov. 7, 2018 and was repeatedly told to hold the victim down. He recalled then holding down his friend's arms while two others wielded the broom.
"I just didn't want anything to happen to me," the teen testified. "I did think about just letting go but, either way, if I let go and I back away, if I run away, the whole mob is gonna try and get me."
His lawyer, Geary Tomlinson, described the locker room in closing submissions as a "chaotic, 'Lord of the Flies,' environment... one where bullies made victims and victims became bullies."
The prosecution, meanwhile, argued the teen's own account of the incident painted him as an active participant.
Court heard bullying was widespread at the school, an issue acknowledged by the school in a review conducted after the sexual assaults.
Three teens previously pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon for their roles in the incidents. Each was sentenced to two years of probation.
One of them also pleaded guilty to making child pornography for recording one of the sex assaults.
Another student received a two-year probationary sentence with no jail time after pleading guilty. The charges against two others were withdrawn.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021.