Hazing brought a Toronto high school football team closer together despite the fear it caused, a former player told a sexual assault trial Thursday.
But two sexual assaults that took place in the football team's locker room "may have been taken too far," the teenage boy said of two incidents in the fall of 2018 at the private St. Michael's College School.
The teen said he was afraid when older boys on the team would attack others and try to pull their pants down. But even after one incident when he was attacked but managed to keep his pants up, he said it was "good-natured fun."
"In the instant no one wants to be mishandled, but later it makes you closer to your teammate," the teen said.
He said older boys would often shout out "get him, get him" and then a group would jump a teammate as part of "roughhousing" him.
A former member of the football team has pleaded not guilty to two counts each of gang sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon related to two incidents in which students were sexually assaulted with a broom handle.
The testifying teen identified the accused in a video showing a group of students participating in one of the incidents, which occurred in October and November 2018.
No young person can be named due to provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Court heard Wednesday that the testifying teen told police the accused was among a group of players who held down another student, who was not part of the team, during the November incident.
He said two other teammates held a broom handle and sexually assaulted the victim.
A student captured that incident on video, which was then shared widely in the all-boys Catholic school on Snapchat, court heard.
The testifying teen said he saw the video once at school on another student's phone before watching it again in court Thursday.
"At first I didn't realize there was a recording of what happened," the teen said. "Then I felt bad for (the victim)."
The video, which had also been played in court in March 2020 when the trial began, shows a boy being sexually assaulted as others cheered and laughed.
There is no known video of the October incident.
The testifying teen said he had little recollection of the October incident, but said he was in the locker room when it happened.
Other students testified about the culture of hazing on the team, which often involved players hitting others on the butt with a broom, shoving teammates in lockers and throwing things at them.
The testifying teen said he didn't think most incidents went too far.
In December, court heard a recording of a police interview where one complainant described being sexually assaulted with a broom handle by a group of students in the school's locker room in October 2018.
In the second recording, he recalled seeing a group sexually assault another student in a similar way the following month, also in the locker room.
The complainant did not mention the accused when discussing the October incident, but alleged the accused held back the arms of the victim in the November assault.
The complainant was initially one of the suspects in the November 2018 incident, but the charges against him were dropped.
Three teens have pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon for their roles in the incidents and have been sentenced to two years of probation.
One of them also pleaded guilty to making child pornography for recording one of the sex assaults in a video that was widely distributed.
Another student received a two-year probationary sentence with no jail time after pleading guilty. The charges against another student, aside from the one who testified, were withdrawn.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021.