CanadaThis violin teacher touched his young students’ breasts. Will his acquittal make it OK for other teachers to do the same?
Violin teacher says he measured female students’ breast area to help them play better. Ontario’s top court to hear Crown appeal this week
Ontario’s highest court will hear a Crown appeal this week of a retired Chatham violin teacher’s acquittal by a judge who believed his evidence that he measured female students’ breast area not for a “sexual purpose” but to help them play better. A year ago, Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey found Claude Trachy not guilty of numerous sexually-related offences, including indecent assault, sexual assault and sexual interference, for alleged incidents involving more than 20 complainants who were his pupils decades ago.
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Former students of retired Chatham violin teacher Claude Trachy, still stunned a trial judge believed his evidence that he measured their breasts so they’d be better musicians, are hopeful the Court of Appeal will overturn his acquittal on several sexual offences.
On Tuesday, the province’s highest court heard arguments in a Crown appeal of Trachy’s acquittal last year following a two-week trial in Chatham where 21 women testified about his actions during their violin and viola lessons decades ago.
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The court reserved its decision following Tuesday’s hearing and will return with a ruling at a later date.
Several of the complainants were at Osgoode Hall to hear the arguments — as was Trachy, now 73, and his wife.
“It was shocking, mortifying, it felt as though the defendant and his explanation and motivation were all that mattered and the impact on the lives of 20 something women was disregarded,” said one of the complainants of Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey’s 2018 decision. She began taking lessons from Trachy when she was 16.
The woman, whose identity women is subject publication ban, said she’s concerned if the ruling stands, it essentially says that “teachers are allowed to remove a young woman’s clothing and touch her breasts without consent and saying that’s OK because it’s for a teaching purpose.”
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During arguments Tuesday, Crown attorney John Patton recalled some of the evidence the trial judge heard during the trial, including the testimony of one complainant, “who recalled him using his thumb or forefinger to rub the end of her nipple” and telling her he wanted to see “where the end is of you.”
Another complainant had “strikingly similar” evidence, in which she described him pulling her nipple and using a ruler to measure her breast. Defence lawyer Matthew Gourlay, when it was his turn to speak, told Justices David Doherty, Mary Lou Benotto and Grant Huscroft that Carey might have rejected that evidence.
Patton told the judges the decision to acquit is troubling because the ruling says “it’s OK to touch the naked private parts as long as you believe it would be OK to do so.” There was also evidence at the trial that he made several chest moulds and watched the students play with their tops off and “naked bodies exposed,” Patton said.
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Trachy admitted measuring his female students but said it was not for a sexual purpose.
The trial judge, Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey, said“that any touching of his female students was not done for any sexual purpose and that his intentions were to help his female students play better.”
Trachy did not respond to requests for comment through his lawyer.
Trachy was convicted in 1993 of two counts of sexual interference relating to two sisters who were his students. He was pardoned and Carey heard no evidence about that case. The 21 complainants who testified last year described incidents predating his 1991 arrest.
“As a female adult ... It’s honestly crazy to me now to think any of this would be considered OK,” said one of the complainants, a woman in her 40s who spoke to the Star but wasn’t in court Tuesday.
She said she was a student of Trachy’s at 10 years old. “I knew him from a very young child, onward. I had no reason to believe that anything he told me wasn’t true,” she told the Star in an interview.
Gourlay argued the judge made no error in law and asked the panel to reject the appeal simply because the Crown “doesn’t like the verdict or the fact he (the judge) believed the accused. Many judges might not have believed him but that’s what the trial judge did.”
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The Star sent Carey questions about his ruling by email, but did not receive a response.
At the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, Gourlay confirmed, at the request of the judges, that Trachy did not employ his measuring practices on his male violin students or own daughter.
The former student told the Star she was appalled Carey found Trachy’s touching “minimal.”
The prosecutor said in court Tuesday “this is the farthest thing from minimal,” adding that “I don’t care what decade you’re in ... imagine the consent forms,” that would be needed to allow such conduct.
The former student sees this as the latest in a series of outrageous judicial decisions concerning women, such as the former Calgary judge.
“Clearly women have a long way to go towards any kind of equitable process.”
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter:
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