National Post (Latest Edition)

Teacher not guilty in student’s drowning

- PAOLA LORIGGIO

TORONTO • A Toronto teacher failed to properly assess the safety risks at a swim site where a 15-yearold student drowned during a school canoe trip but his actions did not meet the threshold for a criminal conviction, an Ontario judge ruled Wednesday.

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

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

Prosecutor­s alleged during trial 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, said the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Perry couldn’t swim, which they said is necessary to establish negligence. They also argued Mills shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than the “average parent” conducting a similar trip.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell found that Mills’s decisions leading up to the incident, including in allowing weak swimmers to take part in the trip, were justifiabl­e under the circumstan­ces.

However, his conduct fell below the standard of care when he failed to reassess the risk at the swim site, the judge found. Given the conditions there, a reasonable teacher would have foreseen the risk of a student drowning, she said.

The boundaries of the swim site weren’t marked, there were up to eight students to supervise, and Perry’s experience in deep water wasn’t well known, she found. There was a lifeguard present, but the lifeguard couldn’t watch everyone at all times, she said.

Perry’s “demonstrat­ed swimming ability was, at best, that of a novice swimmer,” Forestell found.

“Allowing students, including Jeremiah, (who) demonstrat­ed a level of swimming ability to swim without a life-jacket can be seen as reasonable when considered in the context of the presence of a lifeguard,” she said.

“However, the decisions when considered cumulative­ly, as they must be, created a risk to the lives and safety of the students that would have been foreseen by a reasonable teacher in the same circumstan­ces ... In failing to foresee the risk created by the cumulative circumstan­ces and failing to take steps to avoid it. Mr. Mills fell below the standard of care.”

That failure “brought his conduct to the level of carelessne­ss,” the judge found, but did not reach the level of “wanton and reckless disregard” required for a criminal conviction, nor did it represent a significan­t enough departure from the standard of care.

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