The committee is expected to produce a final report in the summer of 2019. None of the committee members have ties to St. Michael’s College School. Photo by Michael Swan

Work starts now for St. Michael's College School's culture committee

  • December 18, 2018

Battling a public relations crisis in the wake of sexual assault charges laid against students, St. Michael’s College School has tapped one of Canada’s leading experts in criminal law procedure to lead a four-member committee tasked with reviewing the culture at the school.

The SMCS Respect and Culture Review Committee begins work “immediately” in the wake of criminal charges against six St. Michael’s students allegedly involved in hazing and bullying incidents that escalated to include sexual assault, the school said in announcing the committee Dec. 13.

Mark J. Sandler, a Law Society of Ontario bencher, former Osgoode Hall professor and recipient of the G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal, will work with former Ontario deputy minister of education and former director of education at the Toronto Catholic District School Board Bruce Rodrigues, children and family law expert Priti Sachdeva, and York University professor of psychology Debra Pepler, an expert in aggression, bullying and victimization among children and adolescents.

Sandler has experience running and contributing to government inquiries into the wrongful convictions of Stephen Truscott and Guy Paul Morin, the Goudge Inquiry into pediatric forensic pathology at the Hospital for Sick Children and the sweeping Robins Review of sexual misconduct by teachers.

The committee is expected to produce a final report in the summer of 2019. None of the committee members have ties to St. Michael’s College School. The inquiry will be financed entirely by the school. None of the money for the committee’s work will come out of tuition fees, school spokesperson Michael De Pellegrin told The Catholic Register.

“The committee has not been handcuffed by a firm budget,” said De Pellegrin in an e-mail. “The committee realizes the school is a not-for-profit and has the experience to work efficiently.”

Fr. Andrew Leung, interim president of St. Michael’s, also released a statement to parents announcing that the junior and varsity football seasons for 2019-20 and the 2018-19 basketball seasons are cancelled

“This was an incredibly hard decision, but necessary to show how serious we are about change,” Leung said.

Speaking with reporters, Leung also said more students have come forward in the aftermath of the criminal charges and police confirmed there are two more incidents being investigated, bringing the total to eight.

Leung also announced an expanded program in partnership with the White Ribbon organization that campaigns against sexual violence to teach “healthy masculinities, gender norms, consent, responsible digital citizenship and appropriate bystander behaviour.”

“Every one of our 1,060 students will have soon completed mandatory themed workshops on building awareness and respect, coping and resilience,” Leung said.

“Every one of our decisions has been based on one guiding principle: the safety and well-being of our students.” 

With the police investigation into a series of November incidents ongoing, the Respect and Culture Review Committee will steer clear of investigating specific incidents or individuals, but rather “examine the school’s traditions, social and cultural practices, policies, procedures and compliance,” said a Dec. 13 release.

The school promises to share the results of its inquiry with others in the education community and the public “subject to redactions to protect required confidentiality.”

The school first announced it would commission a “comprehensive review” on Nov. 18, as reporters and camera crews were camped out just off school property amid allegations of sexual assault in the prestigious boys’ school. The committee was originally to be announced on Nov. 28.

St. Michael’s College School staff became aware of an incident the morning of Nov. 12 through a cellphone video, which police sources say involved members of the basketball team bullying a student in the washroom and soaking him with water. That evening a video of a second incident involving members of the football team holding down a team member and sexually assaulting him with a broom handle was obtained by school staff.

It set in motion eight expulsions and the criminal charges, and the resignations of principal Greg Reeves and school president Fr. Jefferson Thompson Nov. 22.

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