In an unusual decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal has convicted Claude Trachy (“Trachy”), a retired violin teacher, on numerous sexual and indecent assault charges for touching his young female students’ breasts and nipples during class.
THE CHARGES LAID AGAINST TRACHY
Trachy was charged with the following four types of sexual offences:
- Sexual interference: This offence is committed when a person indirectly or directly touches any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 for a sexual purpose.
- Sexual exploitation: This offence occurs when a person in a position of authority or trust towards a young person touches any part of the body of the young person for a sexual purpose or invites or incites a young person to touch anyone for a sexual purpose.
- Indecent assault: This offence is an assault committed of an indecent nature such that the victim is violated and was superseded by the offence of sexual assault in 1983.
- Sexual assault: This offence includes any unwanted sexual activity such that the sexual integrity of the victim is violated and does not require proof of sexual purpose or sexual gratification. The Crown prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intentionally touched the complainant without consent in circumstances of a sexual nature.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE TRIAL?
The trial court found Trachy not guilty of 51 charges of sexual interference, sexual exploitation, sexual assault and indecent assault.
The court heard from 21 former female violin students of Trachy in Chatham, Ontario. The incidents took place between 1971 and 1993, at which time the victims were young girls.
The alleged charges resulted from Trachy measuring his female students’ bodies in order to fit them for shoulder rests.
During the trial, Trachy admitted that he asked his female students to undo their blouse on the left side and remove their bra. He would use a ruler to measure from the top of the collarbone to the nipple, from the jaw to the collarbone and the underside of the breast. There were also times that he would ask his students to play the violin undressed to confirm that the shoulder rest was properly fitted.
Trachy denied having any “sexual intent” in measuring or receiving any sexual gratification. Trachy admitted that he did not measure his male students and only measured his female students. He also admitted at trial that he did not measure his daughter, although he taught her as well.
At trial, Justice Thomas Carey accepted all of the female complainants’ testimony, however, believed that Trachy measured his female students’ breast area not for a “sexual purpose”, but to improve their playing ability by properly fitting them for shoulder rests on their instruments.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE APPEAL?
Justice Mary Lou Benotto, writing on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel of the appeal court, found that the trial judge made an error of law and that the evidence established that the charges of sexual assault and indecent assault were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial judge erred by mistaking the issue of touching for a “sexual purpose” with the issue of touching in the circumstances of a “sexual nature”.
Justice Benotto wrote:
A reasonable observer viewing the respondent’s admitted conduct in touching and manipulating the breasts and nipples of young girls and young women both over and under their clothes would perceive a sexual context to the conduct. These were largely girls who were in the process of developing breasts, and who were alone with the respondent in a private room with the door closed. Their sexual integrity was violated, regardless of the respondent’s purpose.
The appeal court convicted Trachy on 28 charges in the case of 20 out of 21 student victims. The appeal court stayed the proceedings for one student, who was 23 at the time of her lessons. It was the appeal court judges’ opinion that given her age, in this case, additional legal questions would arise with respect to consent.
The appeal court upheld Trachy’s acquittals on all charges of sexual exploitation and sexual interference.
Given that the appeal decision was made on a question of law, Trachy has an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. We will report on any updates regarding this case in this blog when they become available.
In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges that have been laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1047. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting their client’s rights. For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.