Teen says he held down friend's arm during sex assault at Toronto school out of fear

·4 min read

TORONTO — A teen says he held down his friend's arm during a sex assault at an all-boys Catholic school in Toronto out of fear he'd be attacked himself.

The teen is testifying in his own defence regarding two sexual assaults that occurred in one of the locker rooms of St. Michael's College School.

He says it was chaotic at the time, with about 40 players from the football team inside the locker room, many of them yelling at him to hold down the victim.

The accused teen says two others held down the victim's other arm and lower body, adding he apologized immediately afterward.

The teen says assaults were common at the school as students jumped and attacked others on a daily basis.

He has pleaded not guilty to to two counts each of gang sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon in connection with incidents involving two different victims that took place in October and November 2018.

On Thursday, the charges related to the October incident – one count each of gang sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon – were withdrawn after the judge found there was not enough evidence to proceed.

The decision came after the defence filed an application for a directed verdict on those charges, noting the victim in the October incident told police the accused teen was not involved.

The Crown argued the victim in that incident could only identify three of his four attackers, and another witness placed the accused teen in the locker room at time.

But that witness left before the sex assault occurred, court has heard.

"What the Crown has drawn is not a reasonable inference, it is speculation," Justice Manjusha Pawagi said in her oral ruling.

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

Testifying in a virtual hearing Thursday, the accused teen said he and the victim in the November incident, who were friends, both played on one of the school's basketball teams and went to the football teams' locker room after a game.

CAUTION: Graphic content may disturb some readers.

A large circle of boys gathered, chanting, and called him over to the middle of the circle, he said.

He saw his friend "squirming on the ground," with his pants ripped down and others pressing him down, the teen said.

The group continued to yell at the accused teen to hold down one of the victim's arms, he told the court.

The testifying teen described his mindset at the time: "I just did what the mob of people were telling me to do, and when they're done I’ll be fine."

He recalled someone yelling, "get the broom, get the broom!"

Another student returned with a broom, flipped it around and forced the handle into the victim's anus, the teen recalled. Then another student grabbed the broom and did the same thing, he said.

The accused teen said he felt he had no choice but to participate.

"If I helped (the victim), then it's just me and him versus the whole football team... and either way we're going to lose, so felt I had to save myself," he said.

Bullying occurred daily at the school, he said, especially at the hands of members of one of the St. Mike's football teams.

"If someone calls you and you don't participate, they say, 'you're scared so we might as well get you, too,'" he said.

The teen testified groups of boys would roam the halls and locker rooms and slam other students into lockers, rip their pants and underwear down and wrestle others to the ground.

He said a group attacked him once and tried to rip his pants down, but they weren't successful.

Many of those incidents were captured on video and shared on social media, he said.

He said he and the victim walked to the subway together after the November attack.

"I apologized for what I did, told him I was sorry," the accused teen said. "We were walking to the subway and I said 'I didn't know that would happen to you and if I knew then I wouldn't let you go down,'" he testified.

He said his friend was angry but didn't hold him responsible for the assault. "He didn’t blame me for it, for what I did," he said.

That victim did not testify at trial.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press