Nova Scotia

Sentencing begins for former Halifax-area teacher on multiple sex offences

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice has reserved his sentencing decision in the case of a former Halifax-area school teacher and coach who pleaded guilty to 35 historical sex charges involving 34 victims.

Warning: this story contains details about sexual abuse

Michael Patrick McNutt is shown leaving Dartmouth provincial court last year after being arraigned on multiple sex-related charges. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice has reserved his sentencing decision in the case of a former Halifax-area school teacher and coach who pleaded guilty to 35 historical sex charges involving 34 victims.

The Crown and the lawyer for Michael Patrick McNutt, 67, made their sentencing recommendations in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Monday morning.

At the request of the defence, Justice Jamie Campbell has reserved his decision until Tuesday morning.

The Crown is recommending McNutt serve 15 years in prison while the defence is suggesting a sentence in the range of three to five years would be more appropriate.

"Above this utter depravity must rise the voice of this court in delivering its message of clear denunciation and deterrence," Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema said.

He said sexual abuse "detonates" the personal, social, emotional and sexual development of children.

"When a trusted adult, an adult in the inner circle of a child's life, exploits a child for his own sexual gratification, it's like dropping an atomic bomb in the development of that child's life," Heerema said.

Victim impact statement

Only one of McNutt's victims read a victim impact statement during Monday's hearing. Half a dozen victims filed written submissions, while the rest chose not to participate in the process at all. All of them have their identities protected by a publication ban.

The one who did speak said he kept his abuse a secret from everyone, including his family, until four years ago.

"It is truly difficult to articulate how this has affected me," the man said. He said he was determined to speak out when police first approached him because he now has boys of his own.

The man said he was infuriated with himself and kept asking, "Why did I let him do that to me?"

He said if there was any silver lining to this experience it's that it has made him more sympathetic to those in a similar circumstance.

Former teacher, coach, youth worker

McNutt was a teacher at Sir Robert Borden Junior High School in Dartmouth, N.S., between 1977 and 1983. According to the agreed statement of facts in this case, he was given the opportunity to resign in 1983 following complaints from parents. However, by May 1985, McNutt was allowed back in the classroom as a substitute teacher. He continued in that position until 1994 when someone made a sexual offence complaint to police.

In addition to his work at the junior high, McNutt was also a coach for various baseball and hockey teams around Halifax. He was also a youth worker at St. Joseph's Church.

While he has pleaded guilty to the offences, McNutt also said in the agreed statement that he cannot recall specific details because of his heavy alcohol use.

The statement details each of the cases against McNutt. In many of them, he invited his victims to come to his home, where he plied them with beer and cigarettes. He also used coercion and threats to get the boys — who were between the ages of 10 and 15 at the time of the offences — to accept the abuse.

Defence says McNutt at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison

The sentencing hearing began with testimony from McNutt's family doctor who talked about his health conditions, including diabetes, pancreatitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung condition.

The defence suggested McNutt was at much greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 because of his pre-existing medical conditions. The Crown countered that the coronavirus exists both inside and outside of prisons and so should not be a factor in any sentencing decision.

McNutt apologizes to victims

Defence lawyer Colin Coady said his client has not been evading authorities and he's been living in the community "waiting for the hammer to drop."

Coady said McNutt also sought treatment for his sexually abusive behaviour and has not offended in years. Coady said 15 years would be a harsh sentence.

McNutt himself also addressed the court.

"Words cannot express the deep remorse and the complete empathy I have for the victims and their families as well as my own family for the pain and suffering I have caused them" he said.

Crown attorney Mark Heerema says sexually exploiting a child is 'like dropping an atomic bomb in the development of that child's life.' (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"I do not ask for forgiveness because I have difficulty forgiving myself. I do hope that by taking these guilty pleas that my victims might finally have closure."

In addition to whatever prison term he receives, McNutt will also face additional orders, including one that he stay away from schools, playgrounds and other places that children frequent.

A number of his victims have launched civil lawsuits against McNutt, the Halifax Regional School Board (now the Halifax Regional Centre for Education) and the Halifax Hawks Minor Hockey Association, one of the organizations he coached for.

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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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