Police probe allegations of assault, sex assault at Toronto private school

St. Michael's College School is shown in Toronto on Thursday, November 15, 2018. (CP)

TORONTO — Police were investigating several allegations of assault and sexual assault at a prestigious private school on Friday amid multiple expulsions and ongoing concerns about whether the school had reported the alleged incidents promptly.

In all, eight students have been expelled from St. Michael's College School in connection with two incidents, one of which involved an alleged sexual assault of a teen that was captured on video and has triggered a criminal investigation.

On Friday, the school said it had also reported a third incident but declined to provide any details. Police encouraged anyone with information to come forward.

"The incidents are all different and we believe there may be more victims," police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said on Friday without providing further details.

Police had said on Thursday they had been made aware a day earlier of an alleged sexual assault at the all-boys Roman Catholic institution that teaches grades 7 through 12. Since then, investigators have learned of other incidents, police said.

The school, which had initially said it reported both incidents to police on Monday, acknowledged Friday that it had not done so but did not explain the discrepancy.

In an email to parents, the school said it had launched an internal investigation on Tuesday into an alleged sexual assault which included interviews with the students involved and their parents and wrapped up on Wednesday.  

Two police sources said the incident being criminally investigated — an incident in a locker room — involved a group of students on the football team pinning down another student and allegedly sexually assaulting him with a broom handle. Those sources say a previous incident in a washroom involved members of the basketball team bullying a student and soaking him with water.

"We understand and share the anger and distress that such horrible acts could happen on our school grounds involving boys in our care," the school said in the email. "It is unacceptable and falls far short of upholding the principles we strive to live by."

Questions arose after the school's initial statement that it had notified police about two incidents on Monday, which police disputed. A police spokeswoman said officers launched an investigation into an alleged sex assault incident on Wednesday — but only after receiving media inquiries about a video circulating online. Sources said it was police that reached out to the school on Wednesday.

Hours later, police issued a statement saying child-exploitation investigators had determined that the video met the definition of child pornography, and anyone possessing a copy should delete it immediately.

St. Michael's said four students were expelled and another one suspended in connection with the washroom incident. Four others were expelled over the locker room incident.

The school also acknowledged on Friday there had been many questions about its handling of the situation and the sequence of events that led to the expulsions. 

The school had said it was given a video on Monday morning of an incident that occurred in the boys' washroom, and, after conducting an internal investigation, notified police. The school said it received a video of a second incident in a locker room on Monday evening.

"Upon completion of its internal investigation, school administration provides information related to the second incident to police, and gives the second video (locker room) to police," according to a timeline of events the school released.

The school said it notified police on Thursday of a third incident, but provided no other information. It did hold two meetings with parents on Friday to discuss the situation.

"As school administrators and educators, we bear a heavy responsibility to help guide our students through a challenging period in their lives — when external forces are often in conflict with the notion of doing the right thing — and these incidents were a stark reminder that we have more work to do," the school said.

It said crisis counsellors are on site to provide support.

St. Michael's is known for its athletic programs, and alumni include hockey greats Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon and Tim Horton. Other alumni include Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. It is run by the Basilian Fathers with roots dating back to the Congregation of St. Basil in France that is a "fully independent, Catholic high school," according to its website.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press