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‘We need to do better’: St. Michael's principal speaks out after school shaken by sex assault allegations
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Sunday, November 18, 2018 4:32PM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 19, 2018 12:11AM EST
The principal of a private Toronto Catholic school shaken by evidence of several incidents of student violence, including an alleged sexual assault, spoke out Sunday and said the school is working to get at the root of the problem.
“We need to understand what we’re not seeing, what it is and what to do about it and absolutely – we need to do better,” St. Michael's College School Principal Gregory Reeves told CP24 in a sit-down interview Sunday.
Earlier Sunday, the school said it is “launching a rigorous independent examination of the underlying attitudes and behaviors inconsistent with our culture and values, and their impact across the entire school community.”
In a release Reeves called the recent incidents “horrendous” and “offensive to everything we strive to teach the young men of St. Michael’s College School” and added that the victims are being cared for and supported.
According to Reeves, administrators saw a video Monday morning of an apparent assault against a student in a washroom.
Reeves said he notified police about that incident that same day at around 3:30 p.m. and expulsion meetings were set up for Tuesday to deal with the students involved.
“Then Monday night another video came into my possession. There was no one else here. At that point I could not recognize who was in the video,” Reeves told CP24.
It was that video obtained by Reeves Monday evening that appeared to show a student being sexually assaulted with an object.
Video of the alleged sexual assault had been posted to social media. Police have since described the video as “child pornography” and advised that anyone who has a copy should destroy it.
Administrators said they notified Toronto police on Wednesday. Reeves said he initially believed he was the first to send police a copy. However police said they were first alerted to the incident through media inquiries.
Asked why he didn’t immediately notify police about the second video, Reeves said his priority was to make sure the victim felt safe at school.
“When I saw the second video, we were as shocked and horrified as anyone. At that point I came to understand that he had not told his parents,” Reeves said. “So it was important for me, for total protection of the victim here, that I set up expulsion meetings again for the next morning and that I expel the kids out of the school in protection of the victim.”
The school also said this week that a third alleged incident had been referred to authorities.
“Thursday I spoke with a parent who said her son was a victim. Immediately at that point I informed the police and the police are dealing with that victim,” Reeves said Sunday.
Also Sunday, Reeves said that he is forwarding yet another video to Toronto police, though it is not yet clear if the new video depicts a separate incident aside from those already under investigation.
Principal stands by timeline
Pressed about why he waited until Wednesday to alert police about the second video, Reeves said the victim’s parents are pleased with how the school has responded to the situation.
“They are very pleased and they feel that the way we managed it here at the school is assisting in his healing. So we are quite satisfied with the timelines that we used to help this victim and keep him protected,” Reeves said.
He reiterated that he felt he was acting out of concern for the student’s safety.
“My only concern was the safety of that young man and in my judgment I acted appropriately and the parents were pleased with the timelines that I kept,” Reeves said. “It’s very difficult, especially with this video that was presented. If I’m being critiqued on that, you know if I had a playbook on how to do these things and roll the time back, I may have done it differently, but at this point this was the decision I made and how it came out.”
Police say there could be more victims
On Friday, police said in a release that several incidents are now being investigated.
“Investigators have been working cooperatively with the school's administration and, as a result, a number of occurrences involving incidents of alleged assaultive and sexually assaultive behaviour have been opened,” police said in a news release Friday night.
Police said they believe there could be more victims and encouraged anyone with information to contact investigators.
The school has already said that eight students have been expelled and one student has been suspended as a result of the incidents.
School promises ‘rigorous’ investigation of student culture
Reeves said the aim of the third-party investigation will be to “eliminate” the kind of behavior that came to public attention this week.
“Through this review, our goal is to examine these unacceptable behaviours at St. Michael’s, now and in the past, and take definitive steps to eliminate them,” Reeves said in the release. “We need to make the invisible visible. We take responsibility for keeping our student’s safe.”
Speaking with CP24, he said the committee will do a “deep dive” into the school’s culture and history to find out what is wrong.
“The reason we’re initiating the external committee is because we do have a problem and it’s a serious one. We want to find out what it is and do everything we can to understand it and move forward.”
He added that staff and administrators were unaware of the behavior prior to this week and said they are “heartbroken” by the news.
“Our policy here and what we try and promote young men into is goodness, discipline and knowledge,” Reeves said. “Those are the values we espouse at the school and we have done that for a long time. Those values are near and dear to our heart and we don’t understand what happened with this collision of these values and they weren’t upheld.”
He said the school has already taken a number of steps, such as meeting with students and parents and bringing in crisis counsellors for students and staff. Further steps include hiring a social worker and implementing an app where students can report bad behavior.
“The issue is we need kids to tell us so we can act. If the kids don’t tell us or the parents don’t tell us, it’s difficult to act,” Reeves said.
A committee for the “SMCS Respect and Culture Review” is expected to be established by the first week in December, with the aim of delivering a preliminary report in the spring and a final report by summer 2019.
“This would shake anybody’s world. So that’s why we’re pursuing everything we can do and the board is fully giving us any resource we need to deal with this issue.”