Toronto teacher found not guilty of negligence in teen student’s drowning

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An Ontario judge ruled Wednesday that a Toronto teacher failed to properly assess the safety risks at a swimsuit where a 15-year-old student drowned during a school canoe trip, but his actions could result in a criminal conviction. did not meet the threshold.

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Nicholas Mills was charged with criminal negligence that led to the drowning of Jeremiah Perry, who died during an overnight trip to Algonquin Provincial Park in July 2017.

Mills, a teacher at the CW Jeffrey Collegiate Institute, planned the excursion and led a group of students that included Perry during the event.

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Prosecutors alleged during the trial that Mills ignored safety regulations in planning and executing the multi-day excursion, and allowed Perry – whom he argued could not swim – without a life-jacket. to go into the water.

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Meanwhile, defense lawyers said Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Perry could not swim, which they said was necessary to establish negligence. He also argued that Mills should not be held to a higher standard than the “average parent” making similar trips.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestel found that Mills’ decisions leading up to the incident, which included allowing vulnerable swimmers to participate in the trip, were justified in the circumstances.

However, his conduct fell below the standard of care when he failed to re-evaluate the risk at the swim site, the judge found. He said that given the circumstances there, a proper teacher would have foreseen the risk of a student drowning.

The boundaries of the swimming space were not marked, there were eight students to supervise, and Perry’s experience in deep water was not well known, she found. A lifeguard was present, but the lifeguard could not see everyone at all times, she said.

Perry’s “swimming ability was, at best, that of a novice swimmer,” Forrestall found, noting that Mills had seen the teen swim 50 meters without a life jacket two days before the drowning, but kept him in the water. Didn’t see him walking or swimming in the deep. Water without a life-jacket.

“Allowing students, including Jeremiah, (who) demonstrated a level of swimming ability to swim without a life-jacket, may be considered appropriate in the context of the presence of lifeguards. Warnings (given to students) and of additional adults.” It may be considered appropriate to allow students to swim when considered in the context of supervision,” she said.

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“However, decisions when considered cumulatively, as they should be, pose a risk to the life and safety of students that could be seen by a reasonable teacher in similar circumstances … made by cumulative circumstances Failing to address the risk and not taking any steps to avoid it. Mr. Mills fell below the standard of care.”

That failure “brought his conduct to the level of negligence,” the judge found, but did not reach the level of “blatant and reckless defiance” required for a criminal conviction, nor was it a significant substantial departure from the standard of care. was representing.

The judge also found Mills’ actions in misleading the school board regarding preparations for the trip, and his failure to inform students and parents of the results of the mandatory swimming test was “flawed” but resulted in Perry’s death. played no role.

Perry disappeared into the water at Big Trout Lake on the third day of the six-day voyage.

Forestell said no one at the site saw him go into deep water. The judge said that Perry was last seen in shallow water, and Mills allowed him to swim without a life jacket after seeing him swim 50 meters earlier in the trip.

The judge said that Mills and his teammates were in standing water near the drop off point, but they were located near the center, leaving both sides open.

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Another student wearing a life-jacket felt something dragging his leg under the water, and called Mills when he surfaced again, the ruling said. That’s when the group noticed that Perry was missing, Judgment said.

Attempts to locate him were unsuccessful, and police divers recovered his body the next day.

During trial, Mills admitted that he did not follow certain rules imposed by the Toronto District School Board because he believed they were impractical or unnecessary. He testified that some measures would have made the trip impossible at all.

However, the teacher said that the security requirements she imposed went beyond what is usually done in the private sector.

The Court heard that the trip was part of an ongoing program for underserved youth, and that students were required to pass a swimming test in order to participate.

Perry failed the test, as did about half of the students who participated in the excursion, the court heard. Many students also wore life-jackets during the evaluation, which was against the established rules for overnight canoe trips.

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Students who failed the test were to be taught swimming lessons and take part in a second assessment, the court heard. Those who failed the second time were to be offered alternative outings.

Mills testified that he believed Perry to have passed the swim test, saying that when he “scanned” the results he saw “P” for “Pass” next to the teen’s name. ” Was.

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