The family of a 14-year-old victim of a locker-room sexual assault has filed an intention to bring a lawsuit against St. Michael’s College School, seeking compensation for a vicious attack that they say the school should have prevented.
Before the lawsuit can proceed, the teen and his parents must get permission from a judge to file their claims under pseudonyms, in order to protect the victim’s “fragile mental and emotional state and avoid any further harm and trauma to him.” A court date has been set for that on Nov. 4.
The boy – referred to so far in the court documents as John Doe – was in Grade 9 when he was physically and then sexually assaulted with a broom in a locker room, in two separate incidents at the school last fall.
The police investigation into the case, which included similar attacks on another student, garnered national attention and resulted in criminal charges against seven students and the resignation of both the principal and president at the all-boys school.
A draft statement of claim filed with the motion by John Doe’s family – seeking $1,650,000 in damages – names the institution, the school’s board, the founders of the school, the school’s former principal and president, the school’s athletic director and coaches of a football team at the school. The allegations in the claim have not been tested in civil court.
The draft claim also names three students who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case. The identities of those students, as well as the victims, are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The family says school staff “were aware of a history of bullying, and physical and sexual assaults committed by their students against other students” yet took no steps or action to prevent these incidents or to protect the students.
A spokesperson for St. Michael’s said Thursday that the school has no comment, but confirmed that the athletic director and football coaches remain on staff.
“The entire case,” John Doe’s family’s lawyer Justin Linden said, “is beyond disturbing … the thought of this happening to [your son], while he’s supposed to be under the protection of the school, is obviously deeply concerning.”
In a sworn affidavit, filed with their motion for anonymity, the boy’s father, “James Doe,” reflects on the impact this past year has had on their family.
“It is already challenging for a 15-year-old to navigate the typical emotional and social hurdles of teenage life. However, the path for [our son] has been excruciatingly difficult over the past year and the toll of what happened during his time at St. Michael’s cannot be overstated,” James Doe says.
The first attack, an assault with a broom in September, 2018, was captured on video, which quickly spread. John Doe was taunted by classmates at school, and soon friends and acquaintances from other schools started asking him about it. Even at sports games outside of school, opposing players would taunt him about “the broom.”
The following month, the violence escalated. Again in a locker room after practice, they claim, the boy was sexually assaulted with the broom. When he realized afterward that this attack, too, had been filmed, he demanded that it be deleted.
Within days, a “diss track” – a rap-style audio file about the attack – was recorded and shared to social media, spreading quickly through the school. Faculty, too, heard the chants, according to the court filings.
At one point, according to the draft claim, one of the football coaches made a comment to the team “about a ritual of the New Zealand All Blacks, where players take turns sweeping the locker room after practices and games.” Some of the players allegedly replied: “hey, we have a broom in our locker room too, eh [John Doe]?”
“Despite being aware of the incidents,” the draft statement of claim alleges, “none of the teachers, coaches, or staff … took any steps or action.”
When the assault of another student came to the attention of school administrators the following month, the police were contacted and criminal charges were laid against seven students – including John Doe.
“Despite John Doe being a victim of bullying and physical and sexual assaults, John Doe was improperly charged in connection with a similar incident involving another student of St. Michael’s College School,” the statement of claim says.
His charges were withdrawn in July.
Earlier this month, three students pleaded guilty in the case to one count of sexual assault with a weapon and one count of assault with a weapon. One of them also pleaded guilty to making child pornography. A sentencing hearing for those students is scheduled for Nov. 14.
The cases against two other students have also ended, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney-General has confirmed, though it is unclear what happened in them.
Only one remaining former student is still facing criminal charges in the case. A lawyer for that teen appeared in court Thursday to set trial dates for next spring.