A former student of St. Michael’s College School (“St. Michael’s”) has been found guilty of gang sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and assault.
The now convicted teenager, whose name cannot be disclosed as he is a minor pursuant to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was a student at St. Michael’s, an all-boys Catholic high school in Toronto, and the charges arose following a November 2018 incident in the school’s locker room following a football game.
The assault was caught on video and shared on social media. The video showed a sexual assault on a teenager by his peers and others who held him down during the assault. The video also showed students yelling and laughing during the attack. The video garnered the attention of the police prompting an investigation.
The convicted teen’s lawyers argued that their client should be acquitted as he feared he would be the next victim if he didn’t participate in the assault. It was maintained that their client was acting under duress when he held down the victim while he was sexually assaulted by two other students.
In his closing submission on behalf of his teen client, lawyer Geary Tomlinson argued:
The locker room was a chaotic, ‘Lord of the Flies’, environment … one where bullies made victims and victims became bullies.
The accused teen testified that he had been bullied on four previous occasions during that fall at school, which included being slammed on the ground and dragged around by his feet. He testified that on the evening of November 7, 2018 he was pushed into the middle of the circle and repeatedly instructed to hold the victim down. He testified that he felt he had to participate to avoid becoming a target of the abuse. He testified at his trial:
Of course, 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 for running away and then wimping out and not following through.
The Crown prosecutor argued that the accused did not prove the duress defence beyond a reasonable doubt and he should therefore be found guilty. Crown lawyer Sarah De Filippis relied upon the teen’s own testimony, which proved he was an active participant in the incident. De Filippis, in her closing submissions, argued:
By acknowledging that he intentionally helped others hold the complainant down, while aware the complainant was not consenting, in a context where the complainant’s pants were removed …, the accused’s evidence, taken at face value, establishes all elements of the offences.
Ontario Court Judge Manjusha Pawagi wrote in her reasons for judgement:
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. 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.
The convicted teen will appear for his sentencing hearing on August 10, 2021.
WERE CHARGES LAID AGAINST OTHER STUDENTS INVOLVED IN THE ATTACK?
As a result of this attack, in total seven St. Michael’s students were charged. Six of the teenagers’ cases were resolved prior to this recent trial.
Three of the teens, two were 16 and one was 15 at the time, pleaded guilty to the crimes of sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon related to three separate hazing incidents involving the St. Michael’s football team. Each of the teens were sentenced to two years of probation and 30 hours of community service. One of these teens also pleaded guilty to making child pornography for his part in recording the sexual assault.
For these teens, the probation terms include having no contact with the victims or their co-accused or the rest of the school’s 2018 football team, unless it is necessary for schooling or a sporting event organized by the Ontario Provincial Football League or the Ontario Varsity Football League.
Justice Brian Weagant, in his written decision, maintained that although the boys’ actions must be condemned, their punishment did not require incarceration. Justice Weagant wrote:
These boys were expelled from their school. All faced challenges to get into new schooling. One boy faced threats. The boys are all keenly aware of the stress and shame brought on their families. … In spite of the fact that we actually have other serious charges to deal with in this building, the media has decided this is the case that requires society’s focus. That fact has added to the shame the boys are feeling. I think it is safe to conclude that these young persons have heard society’s voice loud and clear.
Justice Weagant also commented upon the culture of bullying at St. Michael’s and wrote:
I conclude that the criminal behaviour in that locker room was fertilized by an atmosphere in which bullying was part of the normative culture of the three boys being sentenced today.
Another teen involved in the hazing incidents pleaded guilty to crimes and was given a two-year probationary sentence with no jail time. Two other teens had charges withdrawn against them.
If you have been charged with a sexual assault offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP have many years of experience defending a wide variety of criminal offences. Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947 to speak with our knowledgeable criminal defence lawyers. We offer a free initial consultation for all prospective clients.