Toronto

3 teens sentenced to 2 years of probation for St. Michael's College School sex assaults

Three teenagers were sentenced Thursday to two years of probation each for the assault and two sexual assaults on the campus of an all-boys private school in Toronto in 2018.

WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing

Three former students of St. Michael's College School in Toronto were sentenced Thursday. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Three teenagers were sentenced Thursday to two years of probation and 30 hours of community service each for the assault and two sexual assaults on the campus of an all-boys private school in Toronto in 2018.

The three former St. Michael's College School all pleaded guilty in October to one count each of assault with a weapon and sexual assault with a weapon for three separate locker-room attacks.

One of the teens also pleaded guilty to a charge of making child pornography, having filmed the sex assaults on his phone.

The boys hugged their parents and lawyers after Justice Brian Weagant's sentences were handed down.

In an unusual move, Weagant declined to read his entire decision, saying the courtroom was loud and he didn't want to be misquoted. He heard sentencing arguments in the Ontario Court of Justice last month.

In his written decision, Weagant said the boy's actions must be denounced — but added that can be "expressed in ways other than by incarceration."

"These boys were expelled from their school. All faced challenges to get into new schooling. One boy faced threats," he wrote. "The boys are all keenly aware of the stress and shame brought on their families."

The judge also focused on media coverage of the proceedings, saying the boys' families have had to "run a gauntlet of media vans" at each court appearance.

"In spite of the fact that we actually have other serious charges to deal with in this building, the media has decided this is the case that requires society's focus. That fact has added to the shame the boys are feeling," he wrote. "I think it is safe to conclude that these young persons have heard society's voice loud and clear."

Two of the boys are 16 years old and one is 15, CBC News has confirmed. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, none of the defendants or their victims can be identified.

The Crown had sought 12 to 15 months in jail for two teens and 10 to 12 months for the third. Lawyers for the teens had asked for two years' probation with no jail time, saying their clients are remorseful and ashamed.

Four other teenagers were initially charged. One of them had his charges withdrawn. The cases of two other accused have concluded, but the Ministry of the Attorney General has refused to disclose those outcomes.

Another accused is set to go to trial in March.

The extreme hazing incidents sparked debate around the country about bullying and how such cases are handled by school administrators.

Incidents occurred over 3 months

The details in the agreed statement of facts in the case are graphic, describing three different incidents involving members of one of the school's football teams. 

In the first case, in September 2018, a student was changing his clothes when he was surrounded by several people and "picked up by the arms and legs and swung around," according to court documents.

The group put him on the floor and pulled down his football pants then struck him across the buttocks with a broomstick.

A month later, the same boy was victimized again, this time with the broomstick shoved in between his buttocks and into his anus several times. This incident was also recorded but then deleted after the victim pleaded with one of the accused to erase the video.

The third incident, in November 2018, involved a different victim, who was not on the school's football team. He was also anally penetrated with a broom handle, an assault also filmed and then distributed.

Weagant's ruling included the terms of the boys' probation, which include having no contact with the victims or with their co-accused or with the rest of the school's 2018 football team — unless it's for a purpose under the Education Act, or they are involved in a sporting event organized by the Ontario Provincial Football League or the Ontario Varsity Football League.

The judge also touched on a culture of bullying at the school. "I conclude that the criminal behaviour in that locker room was fertilized by an atmosphere in which bullying was part of the normative culture of the three boys being sentenced today," he wrote in his decision.

Civil lawsuit against school

The school's administration were made aware of the incidents at the time but did not contact police. Police were only made aware of the assaults after they were approached by various media outlets with questions.

The principal, Greg Reeves, and school president, Father Jefferson Thompson, who oversaw that decision-making process, resigned in the wake of the incidents becoming public.

One of the victims and his parents have filed a civil lawsuit against the school, alleging administrators, staff and football coaches either were aware of a culture of bullying or should have been aware.

The lawsuit seeks a total of $1.65 million in compensation and punitive damages. 

"Their son went to school and he was unsafe. All he wanted to do was play football and he was the subject of a sexual assault," said the family's lawyer Justin Linden outside of the downtown Toronto courthouse.

"The youths have been held accountable now, with these sentences and criminal charges. But the school has been missing from this whole criminal process."

An independent committee set up to examine the culture at St. Michael's found that bullying remained a "systemic" problem despite extensive measures taken by the school in the wake of the scandal. It also found hazing was not a problem.

The committee issued a 123-page report in August that offered 36 recommendations, including developing a comprehensive strategy to address bullying and robust staff training to deal with the issue. The school promised to adopt all recommendations.

In a statement Thursday, St. Michael's said it continues to pray for "all of the individuals involved and their families."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that one of the victims and his parents have filed a $3.65-million lawsuit against the school. In fact, the lawsuit is seeking $1.65 million in damages.
    Dec 19, 2019 3:44 PM ET

With files from Lorenda Reddekop, Lucas Powers, Adam Carter and The Canadian Press

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