In the second video, a different student is seen being slapped by a group of boys while sitting in a sink in his underwear. He does not appear physically harmed. Toronto police have said they are investigating two more videos — one that appears to show an assault with a weapon (a belt) and one depicting a threat — as well as four additional incidents.
Among the steps Leung said the school is taking are: cancelling the junior and varsity football seasons for the 2019-20 academic year as well as the 2018-19 varsity basketball season; counselling for students and staff; launching an anonymous tip line to report bad behaviour; and mandatory workshops on “building awareness, respect, coping and resiliency.”
The school also announced who will be leading its independent respect and culture review, expected to deliver its report by summer 2019: lawyer Mark Sandler, York University psychology professor Debra J. Pepler, former Ontario deputy education minister Bruce Rodrigues and Priti Sachdeva, former legal counsel at the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.
The review will examine the school’s policies and practices for dealing with assault and hazing, among other things.
St. Mike’s is following in the footsteps of a number of schools and organizations who have said that educating student athletes is key to avoiding future hazing incidents.
Following a publicized incident of hazing at Carleton University in 2009 — when the women’s varsity soccer team was suspended for an initiation that included excessive drinking — the school implemented an educational session that it provides to student athletes at the beginning of each year.
The session addresses alternative team-building activities and includes examples of hazing incidents, said Jennifer Brenning, assistant vice-president, recreation and athletics. As far as she knows, there have been no similar incidents at the school since 2009.
“Obviously it’s a very important issue and I think more conversations need to be had with student athletes about the negative aspects, the negativity around hazing, and that it’s not helpful for the team to be successful,” she told the Star.
McGill University put in place a similar mandatory program following hazing incidents in 2015 involving excessive drinking that saw the men’s and women’s basketball teams put on probation. This was 10 years after another high-profile incident at the school, in which 18-year-old student D’Arcy McKeown — himself a St. Mike’s alumnus — was sexually assaulted with a broomstick while football teammates cheered in 2005.
“Just having strict policies is not enough. At the end of the day, education is key,” interim deputy provost, student life and learning, Fabrice Labeau, told the Star.
He said the players implicated in the 2015 incidents helped in the development of the new training, which also involves definitions of hazing, the concept of being an active bystander and understanding team-building. Labeau said there’s a “significant difference” when testing the students before and after the training on their understanding of hazing.
In September 2005, four rookies on the Windsor Spitfires hockey team were subjected to an initiation rite called the “sweat box” in which the players were told to strip naked and pile into the washroom at the back of the team bus. In response, the Ontario Hockey League suspended the Spitfires’ coach and fined the team $35,000.
After the incident, the league says it enhanced its anti-hazing policy, including placing a stronger emphasis on player education around acceptable behaviours and requiring players to acknowledge in writing that they understand league policies.
In 2010, the league created the position of enforcement officer/director of security to ensure compliance with policies around player recruitment, player benefits and player environment. Paul Krotz, director of communications for the OHL, said since the creation of the position, “there have been zero incidents or complaints of hazing brought forward for investigation.”
The type of alleged behaviour at St. Mike’s is certainly not unique to the private Roman Catholic school, but alumni and experts say that an all-male setting geared toward excellence in sports with a win-at-all-costs mentality can lead to an abusive atmosphere.
Some former students found themselves reeling from the relegations over the last month of alleged assault, sexual assault and hazing — and the possibility of more to come — while for others, there was a ring of familiarity to the news.
“I had the same knot in my stomach, that same shortness of breath, that same kind of dizzy, nauseous feeling all week long, as I was immediately that kid being vulnerable in that situation,” said former St. Mike’s student Jean-Paul Bédard, who says he experienced an incident of sexual violence in a locker room at the school in the early 1980s.
“(The school) has an opportunity in becoming the leader to change the dialogue,” said Bédard. “They can become the leader not only in sports, not only in academics, but also in producing young men who respect other young men and hopefully that translates to respecting women.”
Humberto Carolo, executive director of White Ribbon, a not-for-profit organization that works with men and boys to promote gender equality and end gender-based violence, said the group recently signed an agreement with St. Mike’s to provide training, workshops and programming, among other things, for staff and students around healthy masculinity.
Next Wednesday, for example, White Ribbon will hold a training session for all of St. Mike’s staff that will touch on toxic masculinity, violence and strengthening the school’s approach to handling disclosures from students who have experienced violence or discrimination, he said.
Carolo said his organization will contribute to the school’s culture review by consulting with students, staff, parents and alumni about their feelings and experiences, and will develop curriculum around healthy masculinity for all grades and examine school policies for areas in need of strengthening.
“One of the things that we mentioned to the school is that this needs to be addressed at a deeper and longer level. It cannot be a band-aid solution. It cannot be just a one-off workshop or education session for students,” Carolo said, noting he is impressed with the school’s commitment and willingness to engage in cultural change.
The events of recent weeks are not the first time St. Mike’s has made the news for violent, hazing-like behaviour. In 1999, an 18-year-old football player was tied naked to a goalpost and pelted with raw eggs by several Grades 12 and 13 students.
Then-school vice-principal Vince Pagano forced the team to forfeit the season-opening game after he learned of the incident, but did not involve police because “the victim and his mother agreed to treat it an as internal matter,” The Canadian Press reported at the time.
“If you dump the program then the penalty is too harsh, and if you send a warning, then we’re brushing things over. We know this is serious and the players realize the serious nature of what occurred,” Pagano was quoted as saying at the time.
Pagano is now headmaster at Crestwood Prepatory College, a private, coed, non-denominational school in Toronto. Reached by the Star recently, Pagano declined an interview request about St. Mike’s by saying: “Continued connections to the school and a heart now broken on a daily basis prevents me from intervening at this time.”
Founded in 1852 in the basement of the Bishop’s Palace on Church St. by the Basilian Fathers, St. Michael’s College School has prided itself on rigorous academic programming that aims to teach its boys “goodness, discipline, and knowledge” according to its motto. The school moved to its current campus at Bathurst St. and St. Clair Ave. W. in 1950.
The school has produced well-known politicians including former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and former Toronto city councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc.
But it is the school’s commitment to highly-competitive athletics that is most closely associated with the St. Mike’s name. Alumni include former NHLers Murray Costello, Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich, as well as current Canadian Football League player Derek Wiggan.
“There was always a high level of respect among your fellow players and the coaches,” said D’Arcy McKeown, who played on the senior football team in the early 2000s. “The coaches didn’t put up with any bulls— or hijinks, anything like that.”
After he was sexually assaulted at McGill in 2005, McKeown left the university and returned to St. Mike’s to work with the senior football team, calling it his “safe spot.” He said he never heard of any violent behaviour at St. Mike’s while he was student or when he returned.
Alumnus and former student council president Liam Mather said while his experience at St. Mike’s was a positive one, hypermasculinity permeated the school in the forms of physical and verbal aggression and homophobia as boys sought to exercise dominance over each other.
Mather said this kind of behaviour went unchecked at the school, but that St. Mike’s has a responsibility to crack down on it.
“I do think there is a responsibility of the school because their pitch to prospective students is that they educate the entire boy. They make the boy into a good man, so to speak,” said Mather, who graduated in 2013.
He said when he heard about the recent allegations, he felt a sense of guilt.
“I immediately connected the assault to the negative part of the school’s culture,” he said. “And I felt guilt that when I was a student there, I wasn’t more conscious of these problems with the culture. I felt guilt that as a student leader, I didn’t fight against them.”
For McKeown, who has been shaken by the allegations, alumni can play an important role in ensuring that St. Mike’s becomes a much safer school for its students, by supporting the administration in making the necessary changes.
“I hope that myself as well as the rest of the people who were a part of the St. Mike’s family can check their reputations and egos at the door and ultimately realize that what we need to do is use our resources and experiences … and eventually make St. Mike’s an even better place to graduate from.
“But it’s going to take time and effort.”
Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant