Toronto police say six boys have been charged in connection with an alleged group sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School.
The prestigious all-boys private school has faced intense scrutiny the past week following the revelation that eight students were expelled and another was suspended in connection with two separate assault cases.
“All of these instances appear to be hazing initiated but once they cross into a criminal arena, that’s when we become involved,” Insp. Dominic Sinopoli said during a news conference Monday morning.
Police said five boys turned themselves in and the sixth was arrested while on his way to school. The accused have been charged with assault, gang assault and sexual assault with a weapon.
All six boys, aged 14 and 15 years old, appeared in a youth court Monday afternoon and were granted bail.
Police sources say the incident that initially sparked an investigation involved a group of students on the football team pinning down another student and allegedly sexually assaulting him with a broom handle.
Investigators said the alleged incident took place this school year, but did not provide an exact date.
School officials said the assaults, which the administration was initially made aware of last Monday, were videotaped and circulated on social media.
“We are very concerned about the distribution of the videos on social media,” Sinopoli said.
“The unintended consequences are far reaching and detrimental for the recovery of the victim. I cannot stress to you the importance of ensuring that these videos are immediately deleted from all phones or devices in your possession. Failure to do so, or the continued distribution or publishing of these videos will be treated very seriously.”
Police said the victim in the alleged sexual assault is recovering from the incident.
“My understanding is that the specific victim is doing OK,” Sinopoli said. “He has gotten the support he needs and deserves.”
On Friday, the school said it had also reported a third incident but declined to provide any details.
Investigators confirmed on Monday that they are investigating three other cases at the school. Two of the incidents involve assaults and the other a sexual assault.
They are investigating a total of four incidents, including the one in which the boys were charged.
In an interview with Global News, St. Michael’s principal Greg Reeves said on Sunday the school has launched a third-party investigation into the conduct of students at the school.
Reeves said that a committee of three to five “prominent citizens” would be asked to prepare a preliminary report on the incident in the spring, and submit a final report in the summer, so that recommendations in their report can be implemented for the start of the 2019-20 school year.
“Our goal is to make the invisible visible,” Reeves said during a news conference late Monday afternoon.
The school administration released Friday a timeline of events showing that police were not notified of the alleged sexual assault incident until two days after it learned about it.
Reeves said that in hindsight, he may have chosen to share the video of the locker room assault with police the same evening that he got it.
“As you know, there’s no playbook for something as serious as this. So, in hindsight, I may review that and consider whether that was a good decision or not,” Reeves said.
Reeves said he received another video over email Sunday morning, which he did not view but immediately forwarded to police. It’s not clear whether that video depicts a new incident or one of those already reported.
The school principal was expected to speak at the police news conference Monday morning but had to leave due to a bomb threat received at the school. Toronto police confirmed it was the second such threat directed at the school in the past week. However, Reeves addressed the media in the afternoon.
He said the school supports the arrests made by police and that the top priority is students at the school.
“These incidents are clearly indicative we have a problem — a serious problem. As a school, we have a responsibility to keep our students safe,” Reeves said.
“But our collective best efforts have failed.”
He urged parents and students to be “as open as possible through the continued police investigations.” Reeves encouraged anyone with additional information to come forward.
“We cannot report what we do not see,” he said, noting the school has setup a confidential voicemail for students and is looking to hire a full-time social worker to focus on behaviour and bullying.
Reeves said he was first aware of a video showing an alleged assault Monday morning. He said he spoke with the victim and their parents and called a Toronto police sergeant for advice on the incident. Reeves said he was told if the victim wanted to pursue charges, they would have to contact police.
On Monday evening, Reeves said he became aware of another video showing an alleged sexual assault. Reeves said he setup expulsion meetings the following day before he intended on calling police.
“I had to make a decision at that time and when I saw that video, the victim became my most important person … he at that point was a priority,” he said, adding he called the victim’s father.
“It was a difficult moment at that time.”
Reeves said during the expulsion meetings, he told every parent of the boys involved he met with he was going to call police. He said police attended the school for another matter.
“At that point, I shared the video and I was under the impression I was the first one to share the video with them,” Reeves said.
WATCH: Boys accused in alleged locker room sex assault released on bail
“There wasn’t a rationale in my mind to say not call the police. I intended to call the police the entire time. The reality was I was concerned about that boy.
“I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know who the other people were in the video. I wasn’t even sure at that point where it took place and when it took place.”
VIDEO: St. Mike’s principal orders external review of sexual assault allegations (Nov. 18)
Reeves said he didn’t have any information on the second sexual assault mentioned by police Monday morning.
He was asked if he, or anyone from the school, is going to resign or take a leave of absence.
WATCH: Canada’s struggle to eliminate hazing in schools
“The board has been in full support of the way I am managing the situation at this point,” Reeves said, adding the school is cooperating fully with police.
“We are as shocked and horrified as you are – that is not what our community is about.”
Meanwhile, police said they believe there may be more victims relating to the hazing incidents and are appealing for people to come forward.
“In our instruction to the parents, we’ve placed no timelines on any allegations of hazing that crossed into the criminal realm,” Sinopoli said.
“So whether it was this week, last week or last year, if it crosses into the criminal realm, then we are interested in speaking to those students.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre at 416-808-2922 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477.
WATCH: 6 boys charged in gang sex assault on St. Michael’s College student
—With files from Jamie Mauracher and The Canadian Press