Toronto police learned from the media about an alleged sexual assault involving students of a prestigious private school, an officer said on Thursday.
Constable Caroline de Kloet, a spokesperson for the force, told The Globe and Mail that St. Michael’s College School contacted police on Monday about one incident. Two police sources told The Canadian Press that incident involved members of the basketball team bullying a student and soaking him with water. “Advice was provided to the school, and no further action was taken or received,” Constable de Kloet said. “On Wednesday morning, we learned of a different incident after receiving information from the media. That’s the incident that’s under investigation.”
The police sources described the incident under investigation to The Canadian Press as involving a St. Michael’s football team, in which a group of boys held down another student and allegedly sexually assaulted him with an object. The incident was captured on video that was circulated among St. Michael’s students. The school has confirmed the rest of the junior football season is cancelled. Police have said the video meets the definition of child pornography, and anyone who has it must delete it.
The school told parents in a letter on Wednesday it had involved authorities after learning about “two very serious incidents.”
“The administration was informed about these incidents on Monday of this week and immediately began an internal investigation that included informing police and meeting individually with the students involved and their parents,” wrote Greg Reeves, principal of the midtown boys school.
Constable de Kloet said on Thursday that the school never told the force about the incident its officers are investigating.
Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesman for the Catholic Basilian Fathers congregation that directs St. Michael’s, said he learned about the alleged assault on Wednesday through media reports.
“We are working closely with the school officials and authorities to establish a timeline of the events of this very sad situation," he wrote in an e-mail on Thursday evening. "The school will issue statements when all information has been gathered.
“We are deeply saddened by the events that have come to light over the past days. Our primary concern in all of this situation is the protection of students, young people and vulnerable persons.”
The school did not respond to repeated inquiries about its communication with police and other child welfare agencies.
The child protection policy at St. Michael’s, which teaches Grades 7 through 12, stresses that reporting suspicions that a child has been abused to Children’s Aid is not only a legal obligation under the Child and Family Services Act, but “a moral one in keeping with Christian values.” A new version of the law – the Child, Youth and Family Services Act – was introduced in 2017. The school reserves the right to “take all steps deemed necessary” to ensure student well-being, the policy says, “which steps may include contacting the appropriate authorities which may include the police.” The policy also encourages immediate contact with local police in emergencies, listing the phone number for 13 Division.
The 2017 act does not specifically include a duty to report if a child is the suspected perpetrator of sexual abuse against another child. The duty applies when someone learns that another person caring for a child knows, or should know, of the possibility of sexual abuse but fails to protect them. The Ontario College of Teachers requires its members to report sexual abuse or neglect of a student when they become aware of it, regardless of who is alleged to be the perpetrator.
But if a private school teacher or administrator in Ontario fails to report suspicions of sexual abuse, they may not face the same professional repercussions as colleagues who work for the public school boards. Private school employees can choose whether to join the provincial college, which can investigate, hold hearings and publicly discipline its members for misconduct. Brian Jamieson, a spokesperson for the college, told The Globe on Thursday that failure to report the suspected abuse or neglect of a child could be considered professional misconduct. But if a private school teacher or administrator is not a college member, the organization’s hands are tied.
“There’s nothing that the college can do,” Mr. Jamieson said. “The independent schools themselves are responsible for the hiring and the policing, if you will, of their employees.” Such schools, he added, “are essentially private businesses.”
Police say they are focusing on their investigation and the well-being of the victim. "As we go forward, we need to look at all the aspects of this,” Constable de Kloet said on Thursday. She also confirmed a threat had been made against the school. In a letter to parents on Thursday, the school said police officers were on site because of “greater attention on the school.” Questions about why the threat was not specifically mentioned also went unanswered on Thursday.
The letter said the school had added a security presence “for the foreseeable future.” Meetings for parents and guardians have been scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.