Toronto police charge 6 students in St. Michael's College School investigation
Boys facing multiple criminal charges in connection with alleged sexual assault
Toronto police have charged six students in an alleged gang sexual assault at St. Michael's College School that was captured on camera and shared on social media.
Deputy chief James Ramer said five students turned themselves in on Monday, while another was arrested on his way to school. All six teenage boys, whose identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, are facing multiple criminal charges.
Each student has been charged with:
- Gang sexual assault.
- Assault with a weapon.
All six boys — two aged 14 and four aged 15 — appeared in a youth court Monday afternoon and were released on bail. They will be back in court on Dec. 19.
All six were released on between $5,000 and $7,000 bail.
The charges stem from a sexual assault investigation at the private, all-boys Catholic school that was launched last week.
Insp. Dominic Sinopoli, who heads Toronto police's sex crimes unit, told reporters police are now looking into two allegations of sexual assault and two allegations of assault, although it's unclear at this time if the incidents are related.
Sinopoli said the incidents started as hazing before veering into the "criminal arena."
Sinopoli said police have reason to believe there are more victims and more videos out there, and said he's "very concerned" that graphic video of the alleged sexual assault is still out there on social media.
"The unintended consequences are far reaching and detrimental to the recovery of the victim," he said.
Previously, police warned the videos amount to child pornography, and Sinopoli warned anyone who is found with a copy will face serious punishment.
Sinopoli explained that more than 50 witnesses have been identified so far and that more information is coming in to police every day. Asked whether they could expect to lay more charges on students he told CBC News that "depends on the students of St. Mike's and how much they want to deal with this issue."
The Canadian Press spoke with police sources who confirmed that the charges filed Monday involved a group of students on the football team allegedly pinning down another student in a locker room and sexually assaulting him with a broom handle.
Sinopoli said Monday that the victim of the alleged sexual assault was doing well.
"He has gotten the support he needs and deserves," he said.
School dealing with other threats
Sinopoli acknowledged that tensions in the school were high due to the recent events. St. Michael's principal was unable to attend the news conference Monday due to a security threat at the school.
Police said they had also received unconfirmed reports of threats against St. Michael's students on social media and in public. Sinopoli told CBC News the school is telling students they don't have to wear their uniforms travelling to and from school after reports of some boys being threatened while wearing it.
"We want to reiterate that we are monitoring social media, and we'll act on any reports of reprisals, retaliation, violence or threats of violence," Sinopoli said.
The school, which has expelled eight students in connection with the allegations, said it supports the police force's move to file criminal charges. It's unclear if any of the eight are among those who have been charged.
We fully support the decision of the Toronto Police Service decision to arrest six of our expelled students. We believe charges are absolutely appropriate in these circumstances. We will continue to work in full cooperation with the police as they continue their investigation.—@SMCS1852
The school's principal, Greg Reeves, described the video of the alleged sexual assault as "horrific" and said he didn't report it to police right away because the alleged target of the attack had not yet told his family about the incident.
"I called his parents because he had not informed his parents about what was going on," he said. "His mom was out of town — [it] was a difficult moment at that point."
"We're as shocked and horrified as you are," Reeves told reporters at a news conference on Monday afternoon, adding that the school has hired a social worker and launched a confidential voicemail for students to anonymously report abuse or information.
Sinopoli said the school should have reported the incident immediately.
The school has also launched a third-party investigation into the present situation and past incidents. The principal hopes a preliminary examination will be done by spring, with a more in-depth investigation to be completed by next summer.
Loretta Merritt, a Toronto-based lawyer and mother of a student at the school told CBC she feels the charges against the boys are "justified for sure."
"I feel sick about it, it's devastating," she said. "It's hard to imagine that children could hurt each other in such a way."
Merritt said she feels the school handled the situation "quite well."
"They have put in a tremendous effort in terms of supporting the actual boys who were assaulted, their family, the boys at the school, the larger community and they have been very open and transparent with the parents too," she said.
Mayor John Tory commented on the St. Michael's situation Monday, telling reporters what's transpired is "a very sad story all the way around."
"This is a school that has a great, distinguished history in our city, but sometimes it can be the case that cultures within organizations like that, not confined to that school or to schools in general, can fail to meet the accepted standard, and fail to keep up even with the changing attitudes, and I think in this case both things have happened here, clearly."
Police say the investigation is ongoing and information is coming in daily.
With files from The Canadian Press