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Toronto St. Michael’s principal explains delay in police report of alleged sexual assault

St. Michael's College principal, Gregory Reeves, is photographed during an interview in Toronto, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.

Christopher Katsarov

The principal of St. Michael’s College School said he did not notify police right away about an alleged sexual assault involving his students because he was dealing with a separate bullying incident at his school and the alleged victim had yet to tell his family.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Sunday, Greg Reeves said he learned late last Monday night about a video, which has been identified as involving members of the junior football team sexually assaulting another student. But police only heard about that video on Wednesday, and say they learned about it from media inquiries.

Mr. Reeves said he could have been quicker in responding to the situation. He said administrators from St. Michael’s contacted police last Monday to speak about a different video, which police sources told The Canadian Press shows members of a basketball team bullying another student and soaking him with water.

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“I was dealing with the previous issue first,” Mr. Reeves said, when asked why he hadn’t called police right away on Monday evening. “I had set up four expulsion meetings on Tuesday morning, and at that point I couldn’t deal with that video at that moment.” When he did turn to handling the junior football team incident, the victim said he hadn’t yet told his parents what happened to him.

Opinion: I went to St. Michael’s College. I’m not surprised by the news

The all-boys school in midtown Toronto has been under scrutiny this week after police said the school did not initially inform them of the video of the alleged assault, which police sources have described to The Canadian Press as depicting a group of boys pinning down another student and sexually assaulting him with an object. Police are now investigating multiple occurrences of “alleged assaulting and sexually assaultive behaviour” involving St. Michael’s students.

The school said Sunday that they’d forwarded a fourth video, which may be a duplicate, to police. St. Michael’s also said it would be launching an “independent examination” of its culture. The school has said it expelled eight students and suspended another for their involvement in two separate incidents.

“I’m a human being, like anyone else that has a responsibility for this school. And in this school, we need to do better with care of the children. That’s the bottom line,” Mr. Reeves said, sitting in his office at the long-time Toronto institution.

At multiple points during the conversation, Mr. Reeves returned to the same sentiment as an explanation for the delay in reporting to police. “My priority,” he said, “was the victim.”

The principal has had daily contact with the family since they found out, and said they were “happy” with the timeline the school had followed. They needed time, he said, to process what happened.

When asked about standards for reporting suspected abuse, and the duty of care owed to students by teachers and administrators in Ontario, Mr. Reeves insisted he hadn’t breached any requirements. “I couldn’t report at that point, because I didn’t know what I was reporting on,” he said.

The Ontario College of Teachers requires its members to report suspected sexual abuse or neglect of students whenever they become aware of an incident. Mr. Reeves is listed as certified with the college, which private-school teachers and administrators can elect to be part of.

Martin Zucker, an associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said Sunday that teachers have to report any suspected incidents, “absolutely immediately.”

“Reasonable suspicion – that’s all it has to be," he said. "Somebody says ‘Well, we weren’t sure.’ You don’t have to be sure.”

Provincial law also outlines requirements for those in child-caring professions such as teaching, and when they should notify the Children’s Aid Society. When asked if Children’s Aid was involved, Mr. Reeves said he spoke instead to police.

Since the news broke publicly on Wednesday, some alumni have defended the school, while others say a toxic culture has permeated the institution for decades. Asked whether he knew of similar incidents occurring before, Mr. Reeves said he’d been principal for three years.

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“I’m understanding there are things that have happened in the past,” he said. As the school launches its culture review, he said he’ll ask them to go back “as far as they need to go.”

Other elite boys’ academies in Ontario appear to have felt the reverberations of last week’s news. Upper Canada College principal Sam McKinney called students in for an assembly Thursday to talk about bullying, harassment and assault, and denounce their place within the school. St. Andrew’s College also sent out a newsletter to parents on Friday saying their programs were designed to make sure “your sons make wise decisions as to how they treat others,” and understand their actions.

St. Michael’s said the process of selecting people for the review of its culture has begun. The external committee’s goal will be to deliver a preliminary report by spring of next year with a final report in the summer of 2019. Mr. Reeves said the school would likely implement an anonymous reporting app and hire a full-time social worker for the school.

Mr. Reeves expressed sympathy for the victims and their families and also for the parents of the alleged perpetrators. “They are hurting,” he said. When he looks at the school, he said he sees honour, pride, teamwork, and high academic standards.

“The problem is what I’m not seeing,” he said. “We really need to be better.”

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