The Crown is appealing the acquittal of a former violin teacher on sexual-assault related charges in a case that is making headlines across the country.
In April 2018, Chatham, Ontario area violin teacher faced 51 charges related to sexual assault that involved 25 former students, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. At the trial, 21 former students described how Claude Trachy would insist that they remove their tops, and even their bras, and sometimes even had them play with their left breast exposed. He would touch their breasts with his hands, and took plastic moulds of their left breasts.
Trachy’s story was that he needed to take the invasive body measurements in order to properly fit girls for a shoulder rest. However, despite his insistence that the practice was for educational purposes, he admitted that he never measured the left chest area of his male students, or of his own daughter, who was also a violin student at one time.
During the trial, the judge chose to focus only on the issue of whether or not Trachy derived sexual pleasure from the practice. In his judgment to acquit, Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey said that he accepted Trachy’s testimony that the bizarre and invasive practice was done purely for educational purposes, noting “that any touching of his female students was not done for any sexual purpose and that his intentions were to help his female students play better.”
In 1993, Trachy was convicted of sexual interference in a case involving two sisters who were former students. Trachy was subsequently pardoned, and Carey did not hear any evidence about that case in his 2018 trial. Trachy retired from teaching violin in 2009.
The complainants were shocked by the acquittal, and many of them attended the appeal in Toronto on May 13. One of them spoke to reporters at the appeal. “It felt as though the defendant and his explanation and his motivation were all that mattered, and the impact on the lives of women was disregarded in its entirety.” The complainants cannot be identified because of a publication ban.
The Crown is asking the appellate court to substitute a guilty verdict for the acquittal. The appeal is based on the idea that the trial judge made an error in law — an allegation that the Trachy’s lawyer denies. “Many judges might not have believed him but that’s what the trial judge did,” he noted in court.
During the appeal, Crown attorney John Patton ran over some of the more outrageous facts of the case. He referenced the sworn testimony of one complainant, who had described how Trachy would use his thumb and forefinger to rub the end of her nipple, saying he wanted to mark “where the end is of you.” Other complainants recounted very similar stories, describing how he would pull their nipples to measure their breasts.
In the appeal, the Crown argues that Trachy’s alleged intent alone is not the only issue that should have been considered. Whether or not an assault is sexual in nature, the appeal argues, “is found in the external circumstances where the sexual context of the touching would be apparent to a reasonable person who had watched it occur.”
Crown attorney Patton pointed out that the trial judge had not taken into account the, “objective suffering of the complainants, which is required.” During the appeal, he noted that letting the acquittal stand would set a disturbing precedent that, “it’s OK to touch the naked private parts of your students as long as you and you alone feel it was OK to do so.”
Justice Mary Lou Benotto, who was on the appeals panel, also noted that the trial judge did not take the “sexual nature” of his behaviour into account. “He never really addresses what the evidence of the complainants is. It is very difficult to read this section and not look at the absence of addressing what the complainants said about the conduct.”
Neither Trachy nor Justice Carey responded to requests for comments by reporters. The appeal court reserved its decision on the case, with a ruling to follow.