Toronto teacher to stand trial in drowning of student on trip to Algonquin park

This photo taken on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, shows Rich Lake from a trail at the Adirondack Interpretive Center, where the 400-mile A2A Trail is proposed to begin. The nonprofit A2A Collaborative in Lansdowne, Ontario, is planning a hiking trail from here to Algonquin Provincial Park following the general route taken by a radio-collared moose released by wildlife workers in the surrounding Huntington Wildlife Forest here in 1998. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

TORONTO:  A teacher who led a group of Toronto high school students on a canoe trip in central Ontario two years ago that turned tragic when a teen drowned has been ordered to stand trial.

Nicholas Mills of Caledon, Ont., faces one count of criminal negligence causing the death of 15-year-old Jeremiah Perry in July 2017.

Perry was on a field trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with other students from C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, where Mills taught, when he went into the water at Big Trout Lake.

He vanished underwater and a police dive team found his body the next day.

Mills’s lawyer said he believes in his client, and has confidence in the Toronto jury that will eventually hear the case.

“I expect that they will see this case as a matter of tragedy rather than criminality,” Philip Campbell said outside a Toronto court after the preliminary hearing judgment on Thursday. “We look forward to the day it’s over.”

Mills remained silent as he left court. Perry’s family was not in court on Thursday.

Details of the hearing are covered under a standard publication ban.

The Toronto District School Board launched an internal investigation immediately after Perry died. A few days later, the board placed Mills on home assignment, where he remains without pay, the board said Thursday.

The board’s preliminary investigation found Perry and 14 other students among the 32 on the trip had failed a mandatory swim test.

John Malloy, the board’s director of education, said students performed an initial swim test in a lake and that students who failed were required to take a second test at school. That second test was never offered, he said.

The board now has in place new procedures that say parents must be notified of the results of the swim test, as well as a provision for school principals to see the list of students who passed or failed a swim test.

In mid-August, the province’s Ministry of Education announced a review of Ontario school boards’ outdoor education policies. They released new policies the following year that recommended school boards develop monitoring compliance with safety procedures, and create a support centre that would give staff standardized access to information on those guidelines.

In late August 2017, Ontario Provincial Police launched a criminal probe and directed the school board to suspend its internal investigation. Detectives interviewed more than 100 witnesses in the 11-month-investigation, which culminated with the single charge against Mills.

Mills is scheduled to next appear in court on Jan. 9.