Police charge 6 students at St. Michael's College School in alleged sex assault
Published Monday, November 19, 2018 9:42AM EST Last Updated Monday, November 19, 2018 8:37PM EST
WARNING: This story contains some details about an alleged sexual assault that are disturbing.
Six boys have been charged in connection with the alleged sexual assault of a male student at St. Michael’s College School and police say they are investigating allegations of three other incidents at the prestigious all-boys private school.
Deputy Chief James Ramer and Insp. Dominic Sinopoli, the unit commander of the sex crimes unit, announced the charges on Monday morning at a news conference at Toronto police headquarters.
Ramer said five of the suspects turned themselves in to police and a sixth suspect was arrested on his way to school this morning.
The boys, who cannot be identified under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, have all been charged with assault, gang sexual assault, and assault with a weapon.
All of the boys, two 14-year-olds and four 15-year-olds, appeared in court on Monday afternoon. They were each released to their parents on bail and are scheduled to appear back in court on Dec. 19.
Police were first contacted about an alleged assault at the school on Monday, Nov. 12 when the school’s principal, Gregory Reeves, asked an officer at 13 Division for advice about a hazing incident at the school. The incident, Reeves said, happened inside a washroom at the school and had been captured on video.
Sinopoli said police informed Reeves of how the student could launch a complaint but officers never heard from the alleged victim.
On Wednesday, Sinopoli said police were contacted by members of the media regarding expulsions that had taken place at St. Michael’s. He said members of the media also provided information about a video that had been circulating online that showed a student being sexually assaulted with an object. CP24 has confirmed that the video appears to show the student being sexually assaulted with a broom handle in a school locker room.
Sinopoli said an officer went to the school and confirmed that some of the expulsions were not in fact related to the first incident that the school reported to police on Nov. 12 but a second video that surfaced of a sexual assault.
Reeves said he had received the video of the sexual assault on Monday night and admitted that he didn’t immediately contact police.
Speaking to CP24 on Sunday, Reeves told CP24 that he was “as shocked and horrified as anyone” when he saw the video and after speaking to the student involved, he realized that the boy had not informed his parents about what had happened.
“It was important for me, for total protection of the victim here, that I set up expulsion meetings again for the next morning and that I expel the kids out of the school in protection of the victim,” Reeves said Sunday.
Facing a barrage of questions from reporters at a news conference Monday evening, Reeves again defended his decision not to call police until Wednesday.
“There wasn’t a rationale in my mind to say ‘don’t call the police.’ I intended to call the police the entire time,” Reeves said. “The reality was I was concerned about that boy. I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t know who the other people were in the video, I wasn’t even sure at that point where it took place and when it took place.
“At that point, because I had expulsion meetings the next morning – and expulsions, they’re not easy for parents or for kids. So the reality is I went through the expulsion meetings and then I began the next video. I made that decision in the best interest of that boy and there’s nothing else I can say.”
Police showed up at the school on an unrelated matter while Reeves was in the middle of an expulsion meeting Wednesday. That is when he informed police about the video of the alleged sex assault.
More assaults reported
Sinopoli said the school has since reported allegations of another sexual assault and a separate assault.
Police would not say if the second sexual assault also involved a weapon.
In total, two alleged sexual assaults and two assaults at the school are currently under investigation, Sinopoli said. Police say they believe there are four different victims in connection with the four alleged incidents.
The charges laid Monday all relate to the first alleged sexual assault that was reported to police and charges have not yet been laid in connection with the other incidents.
Sinopoli would not say if the boys charged on Monday could face additional charges in relation to the other alleged assaults and sexual assault.
“We have not determined whether any of these allegations are related to one another,” Sinopoli noted.
All of the incidents occurred during the current school year, he confirmed.
So far, police have identified more than 50 witnesses in connection with the incidents and the sergeant said that officers believe that there are more incidents that may have gone unreported.
“During the course of our investigation, we have reason to believe there are more incidents and potentially more videos,” Sinopoli said, refusing to elaborate.
He also warned those in possession of the video of the alleged sexual assault to delete it immediately.
“We are very concerned about the distribution of the videos on social media. The unintended consequences are far-reaching and detrimental to the recovery of the victim,” he said.
“I cannot stress to you the importance that these videos are immediately deleted from all phones or devices in your possession. Failure to do so or the continued distribution or publishing of these videos will be treated very seriously.”
He said distribution of child pornography charges could be laid at a future date.
When asked if the video of the sexual assault should have been turned over to police when the school first received it on Monday, Sinopoli replied, “yes.”
He said the focus of the investigation right now remains on the criminal allegations themselves and not the school’s handling of the incidents.
“The byproduct of that investigation may delve into the issue of reporting or not reporting, but that it is not something we are actively turning our mind to right now,” Sinopoli said.
In total, eight students have been expelled and one student has been suspended as a result of the allegations.
The school said the six students charged in the case are among those who had previously been expelled, though it is unclear why one of the suspects would have been on his way to school when arrested.
Charges ‘absolutely appropriate,’ school says
In a statement released on Monday afternoon, St. Michael’s said it “fully supports” the police service’s decision to arrest the students allegedly involved in the incident.
“We believe charges are absolutely appropriate in these circumstances,” the school wrote in a tweet. “We will continue to work in full cooperation with the police as they continue their investigation.”
In an email sent out Monday, St. Michael's outlined its next steps in dealing with the situation and said staff will be sending out a daily email in an effort to be "fully transparent" about developments.
The school previously announced that it will be launching an independent review of “underlying attitudes and behaviors inconsistent with our culture and values" and on Monday, administrators announced that the committee for the independent review is expected to be established by the first week of December.
A preliminary report on the committee's findings is expected by the spring of next year and the final report should come by next summer, the school said.
In the email, St. Michael's also said staff are in the process of setting up a confidential voicemail for students to anonymously report incidents. The voicemail, according to the school, should be activated by Tuesday.
"We are also examining digital options," the school added.
In the past week, police noted that the school has been the target of two threats that prompted police response, including a bomb threat made against the school today.
Sinopoli also said there have been unconfirmed reports that some St. Michael’s students have been “targeted” on social media and in public. A source who attended a meeting at the school last week told CP24 that it was suggested students should avoid wearing their uniforms out in public.
“We want to reiterate that we are monitoring social media and will act on any reports of reprisal, retaliations, violence, or threats of violence,” Sinopoli said during Monday’s news conference.
Alumni voice concerns about school’s culture
Since the allegations have come to light, a number of alumni from St. Michael’s have come forward with concerns about the school’s culture, especially the types of behaviours deeply embedded in sports culture.
John P. Schuman, a former student and lawyer who specializes in family law, told CTV News Toronto that his practice often deals with victims of school bullying.
He said his office is currently working on four cases of bullying complaints stemming from St. Michael’s.
“I have more from this one school than I do from any other school,” he said.
Schuman said he doesn’t believe the school acted appropriately when first faced with the allegations, nor does he believe the school is going far enough to stop the behaviour.
“The police in Toronto have a very good people at the child advocacy centre for dealing with this sort of stuff. They’ve got people who are really, really, really well trained on dealing with horrific sexual assaults, including young boys being horrifically sexually assaulted. They know how to deal with this situation,” Schuman said.
“For a principal to say, ‘I didn’t want to tell the police because I thought I could handle it better’… You’re an educator.”
However, Schuman said because the school is so steeped in tradition, it will be difficult to make changes.
“They need to look at not just how to respond to bullying, you need to look at how we change our school environment to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen. I think that’s the bigger step,” he said.
Saunders hopes independent review presents 'opportunity to learn'
Despite the criticism the school is facing, in a one-on-one interview with CP24 on Monday, Police Chief Mark Saunders said he does not believe administrators had any “nefarious” intentions when they failed to immediately report the video of the alleged sexual assault to police.
“I hope that with the school, with the third-party review, there are opportunities there,” Saunders said.
“I think it is an opportunity to learn, figure out are there procedures that need to be changed, is there training that needs to be changed? I think that third-party piece is something that is going to lead to that aspect of the thing.”
-With files from CTV Toronto’s Rachael D’Amore