Teacher who led canoe trip says he last saw student who drowned standing in lake

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A Toronto teacher who led a high school canoe trip during which a student drowned says he last remembers seeing the teen standing in the shallow water of the lake.

Nicholas Mills says he never saw Jeremiah Mills swim past him, or leave the water, on July 4, 2017.

Mills, a teacher at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, says that to this day, he doesn't understand how Mills arrived at the place where his body was found.

The teacher has pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death in the 15-year-old's drowning.

Prosecutors allege Mills neglected safety rules in planning and carrying out the multi-day excursion to Algonquin Provincial Park.

Mills testified Monday that he ignored or modified certain rules laid out by the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association -- which he was required by the school board to follow -- because they were impractical or didn't align with industry standards.

Under cross-examination Tuesday, he maintained that "most gym teachers" see the rules as guidelines rather than "hard and fast rules," but acknowledged most teachers aren't taking dozens of students on overnight wilderness trips.

"I believe I tried to follow OPHEA where I could and I felt reasonable," he told the court. "I still believe it was a safe trip."

Court has heard that 15 out of the 33 students on the canoe trip had failed a mandatory swimming test, and that many underwent the assessment while wearing a life jacket. The OPHEA rules require students to pass the test without a life jacket in order to participate in an overnight canoe trip.

Earlier Tuesday, Mills gave his account of Perry's disappearance while under examination by his own lawyer.

The defence is suggesting Perry left the water, walked up a hill and around to another area, where he went into the water.

The teacher said he would not have been able to see Perry go in the water if he did so at that location, nor would he have been monitoring that area. "It was well outside the swim area that we had defined," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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