Two new alleged incidents connected to St. Michael’s College School are being probed by Toronto police – news revealed on the same day that the prestigious Catholic private school cited new information about its junior and varsity football teams as justification for cancelling next year’s football seasons. The school also announced on Thursday a four-person independent committee to undertake a sprawling “Respect and Culture Review” of the school’s social and cultural practices.
Varsity basketball at the school has also been axed for this year. But the school’s hockey program, which has long fed young talent to the National Hockey League, will carry on – with interim school president Andrew Leung telling reporters that there have been no incidents of misconduct connected to the hockey teams at this point.
“We reserve the right to suspend or cancel programming at any time,” Father Leung said, speaking to reporters for the first time since assuming his role. “[Regarding] the two teams specifically that the sports were cancelled … there were various incidents in the recent past. And when necessary, we have shared that information with police.” That information, compounded by concerns that arose about the overall dynamic on those teams, contributed to the decision to suspend them, he said.
He answered with a single word when asked about any concerns regarding the school’s hockey teams: “none.” There have also been no incidents involving coaches of any team, Father Leung said, adding that students brought in on bursaries or scholarships to play on the cancelled teams have remained enrolled.
St. Mike’s has been caught in the turbulence of multiple alleged assaults and alleged sexual assaults among its students since mid-November, when news broke about students allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student with an object in a locker room. By late last month, after more reports, police were investigating a total of six alleged incidents connected to the midtown school. The other five included one other alleged sexual assault, three alleged assaults, including one with a belt, and one alleged threatening incident. Six boys were arrested in connection to one alleged sexual assault; each was charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon. They cannot be identified, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Now the tally of incidents Toronto Police’s Sex Crimes Unit has probed is at eight.
Eight St. Michael’s students have been expelled and one suspended in connection to two alleged incidents – one alleged assault and the one alleged sexual assault for which arrests were made. At least one of the students charged criminally was not expelled; he was arrested on his way to school. So far this year, five students have also voluntarily withdrawn from the private school, although it’s unclear what their motivations were and whether that was before or after the crisis erupted into public view.
The total school population is 1,077 students, spokesperson Lianne Castelino said, and they typically see up to 10 students withdraw voluntarily over the course of each school year.
St. Michael’s College School’s former principal and president both resigned in mid-November, citing a desire to “move forward without distractions.”
Discussing the impact of cancelled sport programs on St. Mike’s students who may be vying for athletic scholarships after graduation, Ms. Castelino told The Globe and Mail that only “a handful” of students receive partial athletic scholarships to university; fewer still receive full-ride offers to either U.S. or Canadian schools. Students being considered for athletic scholarships of any kind would be “well-known” to schools by late November, she said.
The school also announced on Thursday the four-member team that will oversee its school-culture probe.
Lawyer Mark Sandler, a veteran investigator for the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, will chair the team. He’ll be joined by York University professor Debra J. Pepler, whose research focuses on aggression, bullying and victimization among children and adolescents; former Ontario deputy minister of education Bruce Rodrigues; and Priti Sachdeva, a lawyer specializing in representing children in court.
Their job will be to explore “the traditions, social and cultural practices and values,” both past and present, that did, or may have, contributed to the alleged abuses occurring at the school. They will also probe policies, protocols and practices around the reporting of alleged misconduct to police. Former principal Greg Reeves, who resigned on Nov. 22, came under fire for not immediately alerting police to a video of the first alleged sexual assault after he was made aware of its existence. Police were alerted to the incident by media two days later. Mr. Reeves has said he had every intention of going to police, had they not come to him first. Inspector Domenic Sinopoli, head of the Toronto Police sex-crimes unit, has told reporters that he believes the principal should have immediately gone to police about the allegations.
A report from the review team is due for completion by summer of 2019 and will be released publicly. The group may also issue an interim report to the board of directors in the spring.