Nova Scotia

Former Halifax teacher pleads guilty to 35 historical sex offences

A former Halifax-area teacher and coach has pleaded guilty to 35 historical sex offences involving 34 victims. Michael Patrick McNutt, 67, was facing more than 90 charges

Michael Patrick McNutt, 67, was facing more than 90 charges

Michael Patrick McNutt has pleaded guilty to 35 historical sex offences involving 34 victims. (Olivier Lefebvre/Radio-Canada)

A former Halifax-area teacher and coach has pleaded guilty to 35 historical sex offences involving 34 victims.

Michael Patrick McNutt, 67, was facing more than 90 charges and the prospect of multiple, complicated trials in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

But negotiations between the Crown and defence over the past few weeks have whittled the number of offences down to the current number, while keeping almost all of the original complainants.

"The original informations and indictments had multiple counts per individual, per complainant," defence lawyer Colin Coady said outside court Wednesday.

"Now, due to the negotiation between the Crown and myself, we have narrowed that down to one charge per individual."

One charge withdrawn

The Crown said in court that it would be withdrawing one charge involving one complainant because there was no realistic prospect of conviction.

The charges cover a period from the 1970s to the 1980s when McNutt was a teacher for the Halifax Regional School Board, now known as the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

He also coached sports, including hockey with the Halifax Hawks Minor Hockey Association.

The charges include sexual assault, indecent assault and gross indecency, which was how the offences were worded in the Criminal Code at the time they happened. 

'Incredibly remorseful'

"Mr. McNutt is taking full responsibility for his actions," Coady said. 

"He's incredibly remorseful for what has happened over a 20, 30-year span in the 70s to 1994. He did not want to put the victims through a trial, which would have been very difficult."

While he admitted to all the crimes, McNutt and the Crown are not in agreement over the facts in one of the charges. Those facts will be argued at a separate hearing next month before the actual sentencing hearing in August.

That hearing is set for two days to allow as many of the victims who wish to participate to tell the court how the crimes have affected them.

All the victims were boys when they were abused and now adults. Their identities are protected by a publication ban.

The extra time for the sentencing hearing is also to allow for the prospect of public health restrictions because of COVID-19.

Public health precautions

Right now, gatherings are limited to 10 people, and courts are conducting as much business as possible by phone or video link.

Crown attorneys, including for these guilty pleas, have not been appearing in court in person.

Prosecutors Mark Heerema and Shauna MacDonald were on the phone. McNutt and Coady were in the courtroom to face Justice Jamie Campbell.

Heerema said this has been difficult.

"Given the complexity of the matter, the passage of time, the amount of victims, it's been a challenging process for the lawyers," Heerema said after Wednesday's hearing.

"Certainly COVID-19 has made that even more difficult, but we're pleased that we're at the point we are today."

Crown to seek federal prison term

Heerema said the Crown will be seeking a federal prison term for McNutt. 

"It's not a matter where the Crown and defence will be agreeing on the appropriate sentence at this point, and so we suspect Justice Campbell will have a fairly wide gap between the two recommendations."

McNutt was one of two former teachers charged as part of Operation Apollo, a Halifax Regional Police investigation into allegations of historical sexual abuse involving teachers and coaches in the Halifax area.

The other former teacher, Jaddus Joseph Poirier, 78, is facing 16 charges involving three men. He's due in court later this month to answer to those charges.

Some of McNutt's victims have also launched a civil lawsuit against him, the former school board and the Halifax Hawks.

About the Author

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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