Former Hay River swim coach found not guilty of sexually assaulting a minor

·2 min read
A Hay River man who once coached the community swim team and served as a trustee with the francophone school board was found not guilty of sexual assault at the conclusion of a trial in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)
A Hay River man who once coached the community swim team and served as a trustee with the francophone school board was found not guilty of sexual assault at the conclusion of a trial in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)

A former swim coach in Hay River, N.W.T., has been found not guilty of sexually assaulting a minor.

N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice John S. Little delivered the verdict in a Yellowknife courtroom Thursday morning. He said the complainant's testimony during the trial and past statements to police raised a reasonable doubt about the guilt of the accused, Michael St. John.

It is the second time St. John has gone on trial for sexual assault and been acquitted. In 2016 he was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he had been in a relationship with. The year before that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a child and sentenced to three years in prison.

Little pointed out that during the trial the complainant testified that St. John touched the complainant near the complainant's vagina during a massage but did not disclose that fondling in a 2017 statement to police, or in 2014 when police questioned the complainant about St. John as part of another investigation.

"I'm not sure I can excuse [the complainant's] denial as simply an unwillingness to share," said Little. The judge said the complainant testified that at the time of the 2017 interview she knew the importance of telling the whole truth, but did not.

The complainant was nine or ten years old at the time of the alleged fondling. The judge pointed out that the courts have established that inconsistencies in the testimony of young people should be treated differently by the courts, because their perception of time and events is different from adults.

But, he said, the complainant's statement that the inappropriate touching lasted 15 seconds or five minutes was problematic, because even young people understand the difference between minutes and seconds.

During the trial the complainant suggested there were other instances where St. John behaved inappropriately, but was unwilling to talk about them because they involved other people and memories of the events were unclear.

"That's inconsistent with telling the whole truth," said the judge.

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