Women whose violin teacher touched their breasts and forced them to practise topless as adolescents suffered years of anxiety, mistrust and struggles with intimacy from the sexual abuse, court heard in hours of victim-impact submissions Monday in a Chatham, Ont., courthouse.
Many of the 20 victims were 12 years old when Claude Eric Trachy made them open or remove their blouses and touched their breasts and nipples with his hands or a ruler. Mr. Trachy, now 75, maintains he was measuring the girls so their violin shoulder rests would fit properly as their bodies developed.
One young woman described two dozen measurements over two years; another testified that the touching began when she was nine years old. The sexual abuse spanned two decades since the 1970s, at the teacher’s home in a music room, to which the door was kept closed, as well as in a church.
The Crown attorney, Lisa Defoe, is seeking a five-year sentence, citing the large number of victims, the frequency of the assaults, the long-term impact, as well as the teacher’s abuse of his authority over children.
The sentencing hearing followed a reversal of the original trial decision. Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey had acquitted the former teacher on all 44 sexual offence counts in 2018. Justice Carey sided with Mr. Trachy’s account that he was not motivated by a “sexual purpose.”
Last July, three Ontario Court of Appeal judges overturned 28 of Mr. Trachy’s acquittals on sexual assault and indecent assault charges and replaced them with convictions. Justice Carey, they ruled, had erred in the law, because sexual and indecent assault cases do not hinge on the accused’s motivations.
The women are now in their late 30s to mid-60s. Seven delivered victim-impact statements in person at the teacher’s sentencing on Monday. The Crown read the accounts of four additional women, and three more victims submitted their statements directly to the judge. (Victim names are protected by a court-ordered publication ban, routinely used in sexual abuse hearings.)
K.O. was 13 when she was sexually assaulted by Mr. Trachy. She delivered her statement standing up, speaking directly to the defendant, who appeared stunned, looking back at her.
“You taught me that being denied the basic human right of having life experiences before you’re developmentally ready is frightening and confusing. My violin teacher should not have been the first person to see me undressed or to touch me,” K.O. said, choking back tears. “It was a lot for a young girl to bear.”
In their victim-impact statements, the women talked about the long-ranging effects on their mental and physical health, intimate relationships, family dynamics and finances, with time missed at work, mounting therapy bills and career aspirations abandoned amid lingering anxiety and depression.
A.G. said she was 12 when her teacher requested she play with her breast exposed throughout most of their weekly sessions.
"The sexual assault gave me a very grown-up problem to deal with and put an end to being childlike,” A.G. said.
She described developing panic attacks and anxiety-related nausea, as well as serious problems in her intimate relationships; she tabulated spending $1,400 on non-refundable therapy costs last year.
M.A. was also an adolescent when the touching began. “It was icky and uncomfortable. I was only 12 years old. I didn’t know what I should have done,” she said. “I slept the entire summer when I was 15.”
The assaults occurred in the same church where she sang in the choir. “It became difficult to breathe in church," M.A. said, describing guilt, shame, anxiety and years of debilitating stress-related migraines.
E.P., another victim, described feeling doubly betrayed by Mr. Trachy’s original acquittal. “I’ve acquired a lack of trust in teachers, especially males, in certain authority figures and in the criminal justice system, for failing to hold Trachy to account in the earlier convictions,” E.P. said.
Defence lawyer Kenneth Marley is seeking no jail time, instead proposing probation of up to three years, with community service. Mr. Marley said the aging defendant poses no danger to the community, arguing that Mr. Trachy has not repeated the behaviour since a 1991 arrest on charges of sexual interference against two sisters who also took lessons with him.
At the end of the day, the former teacher was given a chance to speak, which he did for just under three minutes. Mr. Trachy restated that he was measuring the girls for shoulder rests, trying to innovate violin technology in an era lacking the modern research tools of “the internet, Google, YouTube.”
“I truly regret fitting those rests the way I did," the former teacher said. “That’s why I stopped abruptly in 1990, when I realized that some had taken offence. It was clinically done, I had no motive other than helping those students and I’m asking them for forgiveness.”
Ontario Superior Court Justice Jonathon George has reserved his sentencing decision until March 2.