Student who drowned during school canoe trip appeared to swim poorly, court hears

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TORONTO — A young man who was on a fatal school canoe trip nearly four years ago says he didn’t notify the supervising teacher that a  student who later drowned appeared to be a bad swimmer.

Adrian Coufadis says he teased Jeremiah Perry about his poor swimming abilities after seeing the 15-year-old struggle to reach their canoe as it drifted away from shore on the first day of the trip.

He says Perry was wearing a life jacket at the time, as safety rules required for canoeing, and eventually managed to flutter-kick the canoe to shore while Coufadis paddled.

Under cross-examination today, Coufadis — who was 19 at the time of the trip — was asked whether he reported his initial observation regarding Perry’s swimming to Nicholas Mills, the teacher leading the trip.

Coufadis acknowledged he didn’t think to do so, adding he never saw Perry in the water without a life jacket during the multi-day trip to Algonquin Provincial Park.

Mills, a teacher at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, is charged with criminal negligence causing death in Perry’s drowning.

Prosecutors allege Mills neglected safety rules and requirements related to the July 2017 trip, which was part of an ongoing program for underserved youth.

Perry disappeared in the water at Big Trout Lake on July 4, and his body was recovered the next day by police divers.

Coufadis told the court he shared a canoe and tent with Perry but was not at the waterfront when the teen went under.

He also testified Tuesday there was a rule during the trip that a lifeguard had to be present if anyone wanted to swim, including strong swimmers such as himself.

Court previously heard students were supposed to pass a swimming test — which included swimming a certain distance, treading water and rolling into the water — in order to take part in the trip.

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

The swimming test for the Algonquin trip took place in June at Sparrow Lake.

Robyn-Nicole Tyrell, who also went on the trip, testified Tuesday she took the test without a life jacket because she was confident in her swimming abilities. Tyrell, now 22, said she couldn’t recall if she was told the results of the assessment.

The then-principal of C.W. Jefferys has previously testified he didn’t inquire about the results of the tests before the excursion, saying no one alerted him that anyone had failed.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press