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Teen guilty of sex assault at Toronto school given no time behind bars


TORONTO — A teen found guilty of sexually assaulting another student at an all-boys Catholic school in Toronto was sentenced to two years of probation with no time behind bars on Tuesday, marking the end of a sprawling case that sparked a national conversation on hazing in youth sports.

Police originally charged seven teens in two sexual assaults and one assault at St. Michael's College School in the fall of 2018. 

The teen sentenced Tuesday was found guilty in June of gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon after another teen was sodomized with a broom handle in a locker room at the school. An assault charge was stayed.

He was the only one to stand trial – four others pleaded guilty. None will spend any time in jail.

Justice Manjusha Pawagi, who presided over the trial, said she agreed with the Crown that the accused participated in a "violent and humiliating sexual assault" where he held the victim down, and that his actions "call for strong denunciation."

But she said she had to impose a sentence similar to those handed to other teens guilty in the same sexual assault. She also found the accused teen was a strong candidate for full rehabilitation, unlikely to reoffend, and remorseful.

"Given that two young persons involved in the same incident and in two others were sentenced to two years' probation, and given the many mitigating factors described in detail earlier, I find that the less restrictive alternative of probation would be a proportionate and meaningful consequence that would hold (the accused) accountable," Pawagi said.

No young person involved in the proceedings can be named due to provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The prosecution had argued the teen on trial should spend three months behind bars.

The defence argued he should receive a probationary sentence of two years with no jail time, and sought a reduction in that probation due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The judge disagreed, primarily because she found the accused teen violated conditions of his bail – he had to live with his mother, but lived for several months with his grandmother and also lived in the United States for a year at a boarding school where he played basketball.

"I find that given this breach, the full period of probation is warranted," Pawagi said.

The November 2018 sexual assault was captured on cellphone video and shared widely on social media before police launched an investigation.

The accused teen also faced the same charges in a similar incident against another student in October 2018 but those were withdrawn after the judge found there was not enough evidence to proceed.

News of the incidents and the subsequent police probe reverberated across the country and triggered a discussion on hazing in youth sports. 

Both the school's president and principal resigned in the wake of the allegations. 

A lengthy investigation commissioned by St. Mike's found bullying to be a systemic issue at the private school. It found months later that rates of bullying and victimization remain unchanged after the incidents became public. 

At the time police began investigating, a video circulating on social media appeared to show a frenzied sexual assault on a teenager by others who held him down and sexually assaulted him with a broom handle.

The 22-second video, which was played in court during trial, showed students laughing and yelling at the time.

The accused teen testified earlier this year that he had been bullied on four different days that fall. He said in some of those incidents he was slammed on the ground and dragged by his feet.

On the evening of Nov. 7, 2018, he said a circle of boys in the locker room formed after a game. He said he was pushed into the middle of it 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, otherwise he'd be targeted.

His lawyer, Geary Tomlinson, described the locker room as a "chaotic, Lord of the Flies environment." 

Crown attorney Sarah De Filippis argued the teen knew what he was doing and participated in the sexual assault. 

The judge, in finding the accused teen guilty, said he could have chosen not to participate.

Three other teens previously pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon. One of them also pleaded guilty to making child pornography for recording one of the sex assaults. Another teen who pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon later received an absolute discharge. 

Charges against two others were withdrawn.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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