Student found guilty in sexual assault at Toronto’s St. Mike’s school

TORONTO — Graphic content warning: This story contains details readers may find disturbing.

A teenage boy was found guilty Friday of sexually assaulting another student at an all-boys Catholic high school in Toronto.

The teen, who was a student at St. Michael’s College School at the time of the incident, was found guilty of gang sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and assault.

The charges relate to a November 2018 incident in which a student was sexually assaulted in a school locker room after a football game.

The attack was captured on video and widely shared on social media, sparking a police investigation and a national discussion on hazing in sports.

During trial, lawyers for the teen argued he should be acquitted because he feared he would become the victim if he didn’t participate.

They said the teen was acting under duress when he held down the victim, who was being sexually assaulted by two others.

 The Crown, however, argued the duress defence had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused should be found guilty,

The teen also faced the same charges in a similar incident against another student that took place in October 2018, but those were withdrawn earlier this year after the judge found there was not enough evidence to proceed.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 first came to light.

Seven students were charged. Six of those cases were resolved before the current trial began.

Police launched their investigation shortly after the November 2018 incident.

At the time, a video circulating on social media appeared to show a frenzied sexual assault on a teenager by others who held him and down and repeatedly shoved a broom handle into his anus.

The video, which was 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 boy said he was pushed into the middle of a circle on the evening of Nov. 7, 2018 and repeatedly told to hold the victim down.

He recalled then holding down his friend’s arms while two others wielded the broom.

The teen said he felt he had to participate in order to avoid being targeted himself.

“I just didn’t want anything to happen to me,” the teen testified.

“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.”

His lawyer, Geary Tomlinson, argued in closing submissions the teen participated in the sex assault under duress.

“The locker room was a chaotic, ‘Lord of the Flies,’ environment,” Tomlinson wrote. “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.

“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 and he was penetrated by a broom handle, the accused’s evidence, taken at face value, establishes all elements of the offences,” Crown attorney Sarah De Filippis wrote in her closing submissions.

Court has heard bullying was widespread at the school, an issue acknowledged by the school in a review conducted after the sexual assaults.

Three teens have 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.

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