Verdict expected today for Toronto teacher charged in teen student’s drowning

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TORONTO — An Ontario judge is expected to deliver a verdict today in the trial of a Toronto teacher accused in the drowning of a 15-year-old student during a school canoe trip.

Nicholas Mills oversaw the July 2017 trip to Algonquin Provincial Park during which Jeremiah Perry drowned.

Mills, a teacher at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, has pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death.

Prosecutors have alleged Mills ignored safety rules in planning and carrying out the multi-day excursion, and allowed Perry — who they argued could not swim — to go in the water without a life-jacket.

Defence lawyers, meanwhile, have said the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Perry couldn’t swim, which they said is necessary to establish negligence.

They have also argued Mills shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than the “average parent” conducting a similar trip.

Mills took the stand in his own defence during the trial and acknowledged he did not follow some rules imposed by the Toronto District School Board because he believed them to be impractical or unnecessary. Some of the measures would have made it impossible to carry out the trip at all, he told a virtual court.

The teacher maintained, however, that the safety requirements he imposed went beyond what’s commonly done in the private sector.

The Crown has alleged Mills bypassed some rules because he felt he “knew better.”

Court has heard 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 nearly half of the students who took part in the excursion, the court has heard. Several students also wore life-jackets during the assessment, which was against the regulations established for overnight canoe trips.

Students who failed the test were supposed to be given swimming lessons and take part in a second assessment, court heard. Those who failed a second time were to be offered an alternate outing.

The defence has alleged the school knew the test was amended to allow life-jackets, despite testimony from the school’s principal, who denied that was the case.

Mills also testified he believed Perry had passed the mandatory swim test, saying he saw what he thought was a “P” for “pass” next to the teen’s name when he “scanned” the test results.

Perry disappeared in the water at Big Trout Lake on July 4, 2017, and his body was recovered the next day by police divers.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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