The Ontario Court of Appeal has convicted violin teacher Claude Eric Trachy on more than two dozen sexual and indecent assault charges for touching his students’ breasts and nipples during lessons.
It’s a reversal of a decision rendered last spring in a Chatham, Ont., courthouse, where Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey had acquitted Mr. Trachy on all 51 counts of sexual interference, sexual exploitation, sexual assault and indecent assault.
In Tuesday’s decision, the appeal court ruled that the trial judge was entitled to make a “factual finding” and accept Mr. Trachy’s evidence that he had no sexual purpose behind touching his students. However, the judges concurred that Justice Carey made legal errors in not convicting Mr. Trachy, now 73, on the charges where sexual intent was not a factor.
Justice Carey also provided “no analysis with respect to the sexual integrity of the complainants and whether that integrity was violated by the respondent’s touching of their breasts,” Justices Mary Lou Benotto, David Doherty and Grant Huscroft wrote in their ruling.
They further said the trial did not examine offences in the context of the student-teacher relationship. Many of the women were children going through puberty at the time, their developing breasts and changing bodies an apparent reason given by Mr. Trachy to measure and ostensibly to fit the girls for instrument shoulder rests.
“I’m very much in a state of shock. I have to say that there are deep feelings of both relief and vindication,” said one of the women, identified as N.D., in an interview with The Globe and Mail. (Victim names are protected by a court-ordered publication ban, routinely used in sexual-abuse hearings.)
“I hope that this brings to the attention of the judicial system the need for training for judges on sexual assault in order to help ensure that this additional victimization ... doesn’t happen," she said.
The victims were young girls who took music lessons with him between the 1970s and early 1990s, when he would have been about 45.
Another of the women, called E.P., said in an interview that the appeal court ruling “restored my faith in the justice system."
Mr. Trachy was convicted of indecent assault for exposing and touching both of E.P.’s breasts when she studied music with him at the age of 16. The apparent measurements happened on about seven occasions, and consisted of him lifting and pulling her nipple along the ruler.
“It eroded my trust with teachers,“ E.P. said, adding it left her, “always wondering, from that point on, what’s behind the person giving me something. ... What’s behind that person’s authority?”
Mr. Trachy was convicted on 28 charges in the cases of 20 out of 21 students.
The final student was 23 at the time she took violin lessons. Though the acquittals for indecent and sexual assault were reversed in her case, the three judges ordered a stay in proceedings as opposed to a conviction, given that her age would raise further legal questions regarding consent.
Among those charges that did result in a conviction, the judges ruled in favour of a complainant who the trial judge deemed an unreliable witness, because she allegedly attempted to extort money from Mr. Trachy many years later. She had taken viola lessons for nine years, starting when she was around 13, and later struggled with substance abuse.
Mr. Trachy “agreed that he intentionally touched the breasts of his young female students,” the judges wrote, adding that the evidence on the sexual and indecent touching was established beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
There is a final avenue of appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in cases where an appellate court arrives at a guilty verdict on any questions of the law, according to Section 691 of the Criminal Code.
“Unlike most criminal appeals, you have to ask the Supreme Court of Canada if they’ll hear it," says Michael Lacy, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, adding that cases such as Mr. Trachy’s would result in an automatic right to kick the matter up to the highest court.
Matthew Gourlay of Henein Hutchison LLP, who represented Mr. Trachy, did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Trachy can file an appeal within 30 days.
Should he not choose to appeal, his case will be referred back to Superior Court for sentencing.
With a report from Zosia Bielski