Man who helped lead fatal canoe trip testifies at teacher’s negligence trial

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TORONTO — A man who helped lead a school trip during which a teenage student drowned says he suspected something had gone wrong when he saw a helicopter hovering near one of the campsites.

Eren Howell, a longtime private sector wilderness guide now working as a firefighter, was in charge of one of the youth groups on the trip to Algonquin Provincial Park in July 2017.

He says he started to get worried after spotting the helicopter on the third night, but only learned that there had been a “terrible accident” involving one of the other groups when one of the leaders paddled up to his campsite the next morning.

Jeremiah Perry, 15, disappeared in the water at Big Trout Lake on July 4, 2017, and his body was found the next day.

Nicholas Mills, a teacher at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute who organized and led the excursion, is charged with criminal negligence causing death.

The Crown alleges Mills neglected safety rules and requirements related to the trip, which was part of an ongoing program for underserved youth.

Court has heard students who signed up for the outing had to pass a swimming test in order to participate. The test was held in June at Sparrow Lake.

The trial has heard some students took the test with a life jacket on, even though regulations for overnight canoe trips required that they be tested without one.

Howell told the court Thursday he knew about the testing requirement but wasn’t told the results of the assessment for the members of his group, nor did he inquire about them.

He testified that regardless of the results, he would have wanted to gauge the students’ skills himself.

He further noted that wearing a life jacket was mandatory for all members of his group, whether in a canoe or while swimming, and that he also wore one himself when taking part in those activities.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press