The fate of sex offender Michael Patrick McNutt is in the hands of a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge.
Lawyers for both the Crown and defence submitted arguments Monday as the sentencing hearing for the 67-year-old former teacher and coach got underway in Halifax.
McNutt pleaded guilty in June to 20 counts of indecent assault, 10 counts of sexual assault and five counts of committing an act of gross indecency in molesting 34 boys between 1971 and 1989.
Crown attorney Mark Heerema asked for a sentence of 15 years in prison. Defence lawyer Colin Coady countered that a three- to five-year term would be more appropriate, considering McNutt's age, health – he suffers from diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder – and the fact that he pleaded guilty, showing remorse.
Only one of the victims chose to read his victim impact statement through a conference call. Others chose not to address the court, instead allowing written statements previously included in the Crown's package to stand. Still others found it too difficult to write one at all, Heerema said.
The man, whose identity is protected, said he met McNutt in 1978, when he was 13, and McNutt was his teacher and hockey coach. He said McNutt invited him and several other boys to his residence one night in December of that year.
“This is the night that Mr. McNutt took advantage of my innocence, and made me believe – or at least question – whether it was OK for adults to perform sexual acts on a minor,” the man said, adding that he was drunk on beer McNutt had provided.
“I left his apartment in a fog and with a secret that not until four years ago did I share with my family.”
He said he's never been able to forget what happened, and often found himself trying to locate his abuser over the years.
“How has this impacted me? Never a week went by in the past 40 years that I have not thought about it. The primary feelings were infuriation and why did I let him do that to me at all. And not until recently, through counselling and opening up to my family, have I been able to honestly tell myself that this was not my fault.”
He said he has had trouble with relationships, questioned his sexuality, and the abuse affected his confidence and career.
When it came time to address the court himself, McNutt said words cannot express the “deep remorse and the complete empathy” he has for the victims, their families and his own family for the pain and suffering he caused.
“I pray every day that they will have peace and happiness in their lives,” the Lower Sackville man said.
McNutt said he took part in sexual offender treatment after a 1994 conviction, for which he has since been pardoned. He has striven over the past 30 years to ensure there would be no more victims, and to be a better person, he said.
“I do not ask for forgiveness, as I have difficulty forgiving myself, but I do hope by taking these guilty pleas, that my victims may finally have closure.”
McNutt has two other sex-related convictions involving boys on his record, from 2013 and 2015.
Coady said the guilty pleas mean the victims were spared from having to testify in open court.
Justice Jamie Campbell told the lawyers he was having problems reconciling the need to follow the legal strictures of the Criminal Code's “totality” principle in regards to the sentence. That concept refers to cases where there are so many offences that the recommended sentence for each one, when added together, would result in a massive and excessive total term in relation to the normal sentence for the most serious of individual offences.
In applying that, Campbell and the Crown questioned whether that would result in a sentence that was “minuscule” in light of the number of victims.
Heerema suggested case law could provide a remedy for that. He cited a decision in R. v. Adams that saw a sentence of 42 months applied according to the totality principle increased on appeal to eight years in a theft of valuables totaling $690,000.
In his submissions, Heerema likened sexual violence against a child to dropping “a bomb” on their development.
“For 19 years, Michael McNutt went on an unadulterated and unbroken campaign to satisfy his sexual urges,” he said. “As a teacher, coach, mentor, tutor and family friend, Mr. McNutt weaponized whatever position of trust he could find and ensnared young boys, often plying them with alcohol, cigarettes, attention, affection, and proceeded to sexually abuse them.
“The Crown is unaware of any single sentencing hearing in Canada where an accused will be sentenced for this many victims of sexual assault at one time. The damage, destruction and brokenness that Michael McNutt has brought to these victims, their families, their loved ones, and our community cannot be quantified. The ripples are simply too numerous to count.”
He said McNutt's day of reckoning has come.
Coady did not repeat all the arguments he had already made in his written submissions, instead rebutting the Crown's recommendation as too harsh for his client.
He said McNutt can't be blamed for the time it took police to lay charges. McNutt was arrested in January 2019 as part of a police investigation called Operation Apollo, which started in October 2016 after several men reported the abuse they had suffered as children by teachers and coaches.
“He came before you and entered guilty pleas at a very reasonable opportunity,” Coady said. “He took responsibility when the evidence was brought before you, brought before the Crown, and myself. So I respectfully submit that he hasn't been evading consequence, he has been living his life knowing that these things occurred, waiting for the hammer to drop, essentially, if I could use that term, and in doing so, without pressure from the court or police, or anybody else, said ... 'I have a problem, I need to address this problem,' and did what he could.”
Coady also suggested that the court should take judicial notice of COVID-19 and the risks the pandemic has for people in prisons.
Campbell will render his decision Tuesday.
With files from Steve Bruce