Six students from St. Michael’s College School have been charged after cellphone video of an alleged gang sexual assault surfaced on social media last week, while the school’s principal continues to defend his decision not to immediately report the video to police.
The boys – two aged 14 and four aged 15 – appeared in Toronto court Monday afternoon, along with their parents. Each one is charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon. All have been released on bail.
Because of their ages, they cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The charges come on the heels of an announcement by the all-boys private school last week that eight students had been expelled and a ninth suspended, in connection to two cellphone videos that had come to the attention of administrators, depicting an alleged assault and sexual assault.
Since then, two other incidents – a second alleged assault and a second alleged sexual assault – have been reported to police.
Police say they are investigating all four incidents. The school has announced an internal probe into the student culture.
The criminal charges laid Monday relate specifically to one of the videos – in which police say a boy was filmed while allegedly being sexually assaulted with an object.
Police were first made aware of that video last Wednesday by the media, after journalists made inquiries about rumoured expulsions at the school, which they’d heard were possibly connected to a sexual assault.
Police dispatched an officer to the school to speak with principal Greg Reeves.
Mr. Reeves had called the police on Nov. 12, looking for “advice” about a “bullying” incident that had possibly escalated to assault. Later that evening, he learned of a second incident – an alleged sexual assault that was taped. He did not inform police.
It was only when police arrived at the school on Wednesday, after the media inquiries, that Mr. Reeves divulged about the alleged sexual assault.
He also shared information about a third incident that had come to light, which is now being investigated as an alleged assault.
A fourth incident (a second alleged sexual assault) came to light on Thursday. This case is believed to have occurred before the others, though all four incidents are believed to have taken place this academic year, police said.
On Monday morning, the school tweeted: “we fully support the decision of the Toronto Police Service ... to arrest six of our expelled students.” But one of the students charged had not been expelled. He was picked up by officers on his way to school. The other five turned themselves in to police.
The school – which has roughly 1,100 students – has faced criticism for not immediately contacting police with information about the alleged attacks.
At a press conference Monday, Toronto police Inspector Dominic Sinopoli said the video should have been reported to police as soon as it had come to the principal’s attention. He declined, however, to discuss the possibility of charges being laid against members of the St. Michael’s College administration.
“It’s far too early in the investigation to get into that, and it’s not the focus of our investigation,” he said, saying that some administrators have already been interviewed and are co-operating with police.
Though Mr. Reeves was scheduled to attend the police press conference, he had to turn around and head back to the school, where students had been evacuated because of a bomb threat – the second at the school in a week. After the threat was deemed unfounded, the school held its own press conference Monday evening. Mr. Reeves stressed that he had “fully intended” to call police about the video.
“There wasn’t a rationale in my mind to say ‘don’t call the police.’ I intended to call the police the entire time,” he said, noting that he was dealing with expulsion meetings Tuesday morning.
“Expulsions, you know, they’re not easy for parents [or] kids,” he said.
St. Michael’s has launched a “rigorous independent examination” of what the school calls “the underlying attitudes and behaviors inconsistent with our culture and values, and their impact across the entire school community.”
Mr. Reeves said the school’s board of directors is in “full support” of how he is managing the situation.
Members of the Ontario College of Teachers are required 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 is elective for private-school teachers and administrators). He said at Monday’s press conference that he had fulfilled his official duty to report – and that he would’ve called police about the recording of the alleged sexual assault had they not come to him on Wednesday.
The school has set up an anonymous tip line for “code of conduct violations” and has brought in counsellors for students.
In total, police said more than 50 witnesses have been identified in the four cases, and police believe that multiple videos remain in circulation on social media. Insp. Sinopoli said police believe additional videos – possibly depicting other incidents – exist online. He stressed that these videos should be deleted immediately.
“The unintended consequences are far reaching and detrimental to the recovery of the victim,” Insp. Sinopoli said.
Police are also monitoring social media, and say they have heard unconfirmed reports of St. Michael’s College students being targeted online and in public. He stressed that officers will act on any reports of reprisal, retaliation or threats of violence.
“While no criminal behaviour has been reported, we would like to encourage everyone, including parents and media, to pause and remember we are dealing with children – most of whom have had no involvement with the crimes that are being investigated,” he said.
“This is going to be a complex investigation,” Deputy Chief James Ramer said. “We will continue to follow the evidence and lay additional charges if they are appropriate."
The six boys will return to court Dec. 19.