teacher and student

High School Teacher to Stand Trial for Student’s Drowning in Algonquin Park

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Following a preliminary hearing, Nicholas Mills (“Mills”), a high school teacher, has been ordered to stand trial for the charge of criminal negligence causing the death of Jeremiah Perry (“Perry”), who was 15 years old at the time.

Perry was on a school trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with other students from C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in July 2017.  He went for a swim and vanished underwater.  A police dive team found Perry’s body the next day.

Mills’ lawyer, Philip Campbell, spoke of his belief that a jury will acquit his client.  He stated:

I expect that they will see this case as a matter of tragedy rather than criminality.  We look forward to the day it’s over.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE ALGONQUIN PARK TRIP?

In July 2017, Perry was on a week-long outdoor education excursion as part of the summer-school curriculum to Algonquin Provincial Park with other students from C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute.

Mills had organized the field trip and was responsible for the supervision of the students, which was part of the Toronto District School Board’s (“TDSB”) REACH program.  Six adults accompanied the children on the trip.

Three days into the trip, Perry slipped under the water while swimming in Big Trout Lake and didn’t resurface.  The staff called the police. 

It has been disclosed that Perry did not pass a swim test before going on the trip.  According to TDSB, 15 of the 32 students on the trip had failed their swim tests.  Two of the students didn’t take the test at all.

TDSB has since introduced new rules for its field trips, which include mandatory second swim tests at the site of the trip.  The results of the swim test will be disclosed to the student, his/her parents and the school principle.  TDSB is also requiring that swim test results be reviewed by more people to verify the results.  Finally, life jackets will be required to be worn at all times with no exceptions.

Following Perry’s death, the Ontario Provincial Police conducted an extensive investigation.  More than 100 witnesses were interviewed by detectives. 

Mills’ lawyer wrote in an emailed statement on behalf of his client:

The death of Jeremiah Perry, on a canoe trip led by Nic Mills and in his presence, is an incalculable tragedy which will stay with countless people, Mr. Mills among them, for the rest of their lives.  It was, however, a tragedy, not a crime.  Mr. Mills has been charged with criminal negligence causing the death of Jeremiah.  He will defend himself against that charge.  We believe the evidence will establish that he did not commit any crime.

Details of the preliminary hearing are not available as they are covered under a publication ban.

WHAT IS A PRELIMINARY HEARING?

In Canada, a preliminary hearing is a proceeding that is used to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for an individual to stand trial.  A preliminary hearing is not mandatory and either the Crown or the accused may choose to proceed with one.

The legal test on a preliminary hearing is whether “a jury who is properly instructed and acting reasonably, could return a verdict of guilt on the evidence presented”.  This threshold is very low in comparison to a trial.  At trial, the guilt of an accused must be proven by the Crown prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt.

A preliminary hearing is helpful to all parties as a tool to learn of the evidence available before trial.  It is especially beneficial for the accused as a screening function to evaluate the case against him/her. 

A hearing of this nature is similar to a trial.  The prosecutor has the obligation to present the most important evidence against the accused.  Witnesses must come to court and testify under oath.  Opposing counsel may cross-examine the witnesses and judges are required to make rulings on admissibility of evidence.

Unlike a trial, an accused rarely calls evidence at a preliminary hearing. 

Not everyone who is charged with a crime is entitled to a preliminary hearing.  Hearings of this nature are only applicable to serious cases that are to proceed by way of indictment.  Indictable offences can range from lesser charges such as solicitation of prostitution and marking harassing telephone calls to more serious charges including murder and aggravated assault. 

Although an accused may waive his/her right to a preliminary hearing, the Crown prosecutor has the right to conduct a hearing regardless of the accused’s waiver.

If the Court finds that there is not enough evidence to send the case to trial, charges against the accused will be dismissed.  If the Court finds there is enough evidence to proceed to trial and if the accused pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set.  In some cases, an accused may be “discharged” on some counts and committed to trial on others depending on the charges that the evidence presented at the hearing supports. 

We will continue to follow the criminal case against Mills as it makes its way to trial and will provide updates in this blog.

If you have been charged with a criminal 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.