Facts and Opinions on Assault at St. Michael’s College School

Edited by Ann Marie Elpa 

    The Toronto police have charged six students from St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) with assault, gang sexual assault, and sexual assault with a weapon. The ongoing investigation consists of two alleged sexual assault cases, three alleged assault cases, and one case involving alleged threats. The sex crimes unit of the Toronto police has four videos of the aforementioned alleged assaults, obtained from Principal Greg Reeves of SMCS and the media. 

    St. Michael’s College School is a Toronto private school for boys from grade seven to twelve. It is the only Catholic all-boys school in Ontario and its notable alumni include NHL stars Eric Lindros and Bobby Bauer, as well as Conservative Ontario politician Patrick Brown. Established in 1852 by the French Basilian Fathers, the school enjoys a prestigious reputation, as can be inferred by its hefty annual fee of more than $20,000. 

    All this, however, becomes insignificant mid-November when the media noticed that there are two videos going viral on social media. One is set in the washroom of SMCS and the other is set in its locker-room. Both are recordings of brutal sexual assault between students. 

    

Timeline of Events

    In the evening of November 12, Principal Reeves himself received the videos of assault. However, the police were not notified of the happenings until November 14, when they were questioned by the media and headed to the school to obtain the videos. The aforementioned investigations and charges then began. 

    Under heavy media fire, SMCS announced on November 18 the initiation of the “SMCS Respect and Culture Review”, a third-party committee that will investigate the student culture by “examining the traditions, rituals, and social practices of students at every grade level and in all areas of school life.” 

    To do further damage control, the school held a three-hour alumni meeting on November 20 to discuss the events. Three hundred people attended and had vastly different feelings concerning the matter. Many showed support for the school leaders, such as when Reeves professed that his priorities are the victims and the students and that he would strive to prevent similar incidents in the future, he was not only met with enthusiastic applause but also a standing ovation. On the other hand, there were others like Kyle Fraser, who was verbally bullied at the school and left five years ago. He drove six hours from Ohio to attend this meeting and publicly pressed Reeves to resign, saying that he has broken the trust of the parents and students by failing to provide them with the safe learning environment that they expected. 

    Nevertheless, on November 21, The board publicized its unanimous support for Principal Reeves and President Father Jefferson Thompson, citing their “dedication and care for students throughout their careers” and vouching that “they are both men of the highest integrity and continue to have our trust to lead us forward.”. Consequently, it was a surprise for some when, a day later, both Reeves and Thompson resigned, effective immediately. The board hereafter praised the two for making a “courageous decision” that allows the school to “move forward”. 

    

Moving Forward

    Besides the establishment of the review committee, SMCS has taken several remedial and preventive measures in the wake of the exposure. They have cancelled midterm exams, are connecting students to alumni for support, and are facilitating lunch-time forums for students to communicate and heal. As well, the school has set up an anonymous voicemail line for students to report inappropriate behaviour. Finally, they have employed a full-time social worker and four security guards to patrol high-risk areas such as washrooms and locker rooms.

 

The Legal Issue

    Reeves received the video recordings of the assault cases on the night of November 12. The police were only notified on November 14. Reeves said that though he had every intention of contacting the police immediately, he prioritized informing the victim’s parents and setting up expulsion hearings. He also said that this decision was supported by the victim and his parents and that he has no regrets concerning his actions.

    Be that as it may, the Ontario Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA) mandates all who work with children and suspect abuse to immediately notify a children’s aid society, who then have the right to decide whether to investigate and involve the police. If charged with failure to report, the offender can be fined up to $5,000. As well, the Education Act states that schools need to create a positive school environment and prevent actions like bullying and sexual assault.

    It is still unclear what legal actions will be taken. 

 

The Administrative Issue

    All publicly funded Ontario school boards have protocols on what kind of incidents require closure and connecting with authorities. None of these, however, apply to private schools like SMCS. Acting independently from the Ministry of Education, they are only held by the law, such as the CYFSA and the Education Act. 

    Recent events, nonetheless, have raised questions about whether private schools should be bound more by governmental jurisdiction. Inspector Domenic Sinopoli from the Toronto police’s sex crimes unit has suggested that “Perhaps this is an opportunity where some of these private schools, like St. Mike’s, partner with the Toronto Police Service in developing a protocol for joint investigations.”

    Although the benefits of such an arrangement are clear, it still might raise the age-old question of the justified sphere of governmental influence. Administrative action of this nature has yet to be taken.

 

The Cultural Issue

    The former student of SMCS, Kyle Fraser, described the school to have an atmosphere of “toxic masculinity”. More specifically, “There’s a lot of big egos at the school and there always has been and people always want to be on top and stand out.” U of T Psychology Associate Professor Roy Gillis’  opinion corroborates with Fraser’s, saying “There appears to be dominance, control over others and a lack of empathy in the kind of hyper-masculine environment that can lead to bullying and violence”. British psychotherapist Joy Schaverien actually came up with the term “boarding school syndrome” to describe this phenomenon that often occurs at exclusive all-male institutions. 

    On the other hand, there are many SCMS alumni who disagree with this viewpoint. Amongst whom is its recent graduate Mike, who said, “I myself played on the junior football team … The camaraderie in the dressing room was big. We all pulled jokes here and there, everything you’d expect from a typical sports team.” He is seconded by alum Akil Thomas, who said, “I felt there was more of a brotherhood at St. Mike’s. We were all brothers. That’s why I can’t really wrap my head around this current situation.”

 

The Media Issue

    The spreading of the videos of assault on social media undeniably contributed to the exposure of the abuse in the educational institution. Nonetheless, according to Professor Gillis, “the kind of naive oversharing going on, particularly on social media by young people […] multiplies the humiliation of the target.” Glen Canning, a Toronto-based advocate for sexual assault victims, agrees with this view. His own daughter having committed suicide in 2013 after an intimate photo of her went viral, he described this use of social media as: “It's inexcusable, it’s death by a thousand cuts, and it has terrible consequences.” Detective Sergeant Paul Krawcyzk of the Toronto police’s sex crimes unit also feels it is an issue that technology and social media encourage people to record photos and videos instead of actively engaging with reality and helping the victim. To stop the viral spread of the videos, the Toronto police is requesting all who possess any of the SMCS videos that can be categorized as child pornography to delete them.