Three teens plead guilty in St. Michael's sex assault scandal
Published Thursday, October 3, 2019 11:29AM EDT Last Updated Thursday, October 3, 2019 6:37PM EDT
Warning: This story includes graphic content that may be disturbing to some readers.
Three teenagers facing charges in a sexual assault scandal at St. Michael’s College School last year have pleaded guilty.
The teens, who are 15 and 16 years old, pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon and assault with a weapon on Thursday morning inside a Toronto courtroom.
One of the three teenagers also pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography.
Speaking outside the courtroom, a lawyer for one of the youth said it was a “difficult day for all parties involved.”
“I think what we need to realize is that three very strong youths stepped up and took responsibility for their behaviour,” Rachel Lichtman told reporters.
“We all need to remember that in Canada we have a separate youth criminal justice system and that’s for a reason, and that reason is we understand that a youth under the age of 18, their brain is not fully developed yet. They can’t always comprehend and understand their behaviour themselves. So, I think everyone needs to understand this today.”
In November of last year, six boys were charged in connection with the alleged sex assault of a student at the all-boys private school.
According to police, videos of the incident, which occurred inside a washroom at the school, began circulating between students and on social media. Both the principal and president of the school resigned amid the police investigation after facing criticism for their handling of the situation.
At the time, Toronto police said that officers were first contacted by the principal of St. Michael’s College School for advice about a “hazing” incident at the school. A few days later, investigators learned about a number of student expulsions and a second video depicting an alleged assault. A formal investigation was then launched by police.
Multiple sport teams at the school were cancelled for the season following the allegations and students were required to participate in workshops about bullying and harassment. An independent committee was set up to examine the culture at St. Michael’s College School and in August, determined that bullying remained a “systemic” problem.
A few months later, police said they were investigating two additional incidents. Eight students were expelled from school as a result and a seventh student was formally charged by police.
The students were each facing charges of sexual assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon.
Charges against one of the seven students were withdrawn in August and the cases against two others have concluded, although Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General would not say at the time what the outcomes were of those cases.
The last student facing charges has a court hearing scheduled for Oct. 17.
In an Agreed Statement of Facts presented by Crown Attorney Erin McNamara on Thursday, the court heard more details about the alleged incidents.
McNamara said that the first incident occurred on or around Sept. 18, 2018, after a football practice.
“(A victim) was surrounded by several people, picked up by the arms and legs, and swung around,” according to the Agreed Statement. “He was flipped over onto his stomach…people started yelling ‘Get the broom!’”
McNamara said that the same victim was sexually assaulted on Oct. 17 in the school locker room.
The Statement also made reference to video of another sexual assault on Nov. 7 involving a different victim. The Statement said two of the accused “tore at (the victim’s) clothing, ripping his underwear apart.”
“The crowd around them screamed and yelled.”
On Thursday, the director of communications for St. Michael’s College School said in a statement that the school will not be commenting on the case “due to the court-imposed publication ban.”
The teenagers who pleaded guilty on Thursday are scheduled to attend a sentencing hearing on Nov. 14, 2019.
They cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
With files from The Canadian Press