'Abhorrent' behaviour on high school trip condemned by judge at assault sentencing
WARNING: Some of the descriptions in this story might offend some readers
A judge admonished two former Clarenville high school students Friday for their "abhorrent behaviour" in an incident among teammates that a defence lawyer called in the "tradition of hazing."
Judge Mark Linehan said the incident, which happened in 2016 in a hotel room during a sports team trip, had a long-lasting impact on its victims and led to their social isolation.
According to an agreed statement of facts in the case, a senior member of the sports team closed the room door and announced to a group of newer players that it was "initiation time."
First, two team members were told to take off some of their clothes and lie down on the beds. They were held down by two senior members of the team, who rubbed their hands over the victims' underwear for one or two minutes, while, at the same time, a cellphone showing sexual images was held up in front of the two victims.
While those two newer teammates were allowed to get up from the bed, another two students were targeted in the same hotel room.
Four senior members held onto the third victim, while a fifth pushed his genitals against the victim's face. In a similar incident, a fourth victim was pinned to the floor, and a senior team member pressed their genitals against his face.
None of the former students can be identified, because they were all under 18 when the incident occurred.
5 students sentenced
In total, five former students have been sentenced for their roles in the incident.
The two in Gander provincial court Friday pleaded guilty to three counts of assault, while other charges — referencing sexual assault, sexual interference and forcible confinement — were withdrawn.
They were given a conditional discharge by the judge. They are not allowed to initiate contact with the victims, and must meet with a youth court worker to be referred to counselling programs.
If they fulfil their conditions for a period of six months, the conviction will be removed from their criminal record in three years.
Before he was sentenced, one of the students in court on Friday told the judge he was "full of regret" for his actions.
"I wish I was more educated on the consequences from such an event," he said. "I will always reflect upon my wrongful actions and will continue to better myself each day. I also apologize to each individual affected by my actions and hope that they know I am deeply disappointed in myself."
The three other members who were charged each received a judicial reprimand earlier in January for charges of assault. A judicial reprimand is a lecture or warning from the judge that does not include further punishment.
Crown attorney Douglas Howell said the incident wasn't reported to police or teachers at the high school at the time, and was only discovered the following year, when a returning student told a coach "what they did last year was not fit."
Police laid charges in late 2018, following an investigation where all four victims gave statements to RCMP officers. One of the victims later requested that the charges related to him be withdrawn.
"This particular event opened a lot of eyes for a lot of people," Howell said. "They shouldn't be surprised to hear that what they did has had a significant and long-lasting effect."
'Boyish foolishness' surrounded event: defence
Clarenville defence lawyer James Hughes, who represented one of the two former students in court Friday, said the actions of the players were inexcusable, but added the context of the event.
"There's no question that when it happened, it was a spur of the moment — but it was also in keeping with a tradition of hazing," he said. "They were hazed and initiated when they came into it, and they carried on this ridiculous tradition of hazing.
"Make no mistake, the context, the atmosphere within that room was laughter and boyish foolishness."
Hughes said the incident was out of character for his client, who otherwise had no criminal record and was an outstanding student.
Judge: 'Hazing' does not explain away the crimes
In issuing his sentence Friday morning, though, the judge said the context of the event — a "hazing" event — does not mean it can be excused.
"Society has spoken and they find that this behaviour is abhorrent," said Linehan.
"I'm satisfied that in this circumstances, these youths engaged in abhorrent behaviour that may have been either accepted by the adults who should have known better around them, that they were taught this behaviour because other teammates engaged in this with them many years before. That does not explain away their behaviour."
Before court adjourned, Linehan told the two young men — who were tried as youths, even though they are now over 18 — that should they find themselves in coaching or leadership positions in the future, they will need to show better judgment and character.
"If you're both the leaders that you both told me that you are [now] … you will be telling them that if you get wind of this type of behaviour … then you will be the ones that will put a stop," he said.