A scandal from hell for prestigious school

St. Michael is not really a saint. He’s an angel, an archangel.

According to scripture, Michael led the army of angels who cast Satan into hell. He stood guard at the gates of paradise after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden.

A warrior-angel, usually depicted wielding the sword of justice, to separate the righteous from the evil on Judgment Day.

Michael’s duties include escorting the faithful to heaven at the hour of death.

He is the protector, especially from lethal enemies. Patron saint of soldiers and police officers and doctors.

But Archangel Michael has failed the students of eponymous St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. Nobody, neither a spiritual entity nor a flesh-and-bones school administrator, was safeguarding the youths who were allegedly attacked, sexually violated, debased and humiliated in what is becoming an ever-expanding criminal investigation that has thrown the prestigious all-boys institution into upheaval and defensive posturing.

First they huddled, then they investigated internally, and only belatedly did police learn of the allegations.

On Tuesday, 24 hours after six boys were charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon, police revealed they are investigating “two additional occurrences” related to videos at the core of the sordid case, footage documented by participants and/or witnesses and posted to social media.

Two more videos now rising to the surface of the internet muck pit.

One of the videos had been out there, making the online rounds, for at least two weeks, seen by untold numbers of voyeurs.

At Toronto police headquarters, Insp. Domenic Sinopoli, commander of the sex crimes unit, said he wasn’t astounded that further incidents have been discovered – one described as “threatening,” the other as an assault with a belt.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised by this. I don’t really want to alarm anybody, but it did not surprise when I learned that we had an additional two videos. I expect that we’ll get more people coming forward and I encourage that. I don’t want them to assume that someone else has talked.”

Six videos. At least four victims. It’s unclear if the individuals on the most recently obtained videos are the same boys mistreated in the earlier footage. Police are still trying to identify the youths.

“We believe they’re related, but we haven’t been able to identify them at this stage.”

Sinopoli wouldn’t say how police came to possess the new evidence. But police believe the videos were also made at the school.

To be clear: The activities depicted aren’t the stuff of mild hazing, which is a common form of bonding on sports teams.

These, as described, are criminal acts that have resulted, thus far, in 18 criminal charges. In one video, a boy appears to be sexually assaulted with a broom handle in a locker room. According to the school, members of the junior football team and its coaches met with school authorities after the videos became known to them, but before police were summoned.

So of course St. Michael’s, renowned for both its athletic and scholarly achievements, is under the microscope, with questions asked about just what kind of vile culture is being incubated at the institution, however unfair that might be to the more than 1,000 students who had nothing to do with the alleged assaults.

“I have no information to suggest a ‘fight club’ or any culture of hazing,” Sinopoli stressed.

St. Mike’s has already expelled eight students and suspended another in connection with at least two of the videos. Five boys subsequently turned themselves into police and one was arrested on his way to school. All were released on bail after making court appearances.

It’s also unclear if that sixth student arrested is among the expelled. “It is my understanding that the school was not aware of his involvement,” said Sinopoli.

While minor physical contact can be consensual, “once you engage a weapon or you cause bodily harm, that’s different,” Sinopoli noted.

On Thursday, principal Greg Reeves and Father Jefferson Thompson, the school’s president, stepped down “citing their shared desire to move the school forward without distractions and allow it to focus on healing and change after the horrific events,” according to St. Michael’s.

St. Michael is a ubiquitous presence around Toronto. There’s St. Michael’s Cathedral, St. Michael’s College at the U of T. And St. Michael’s College School, a roil now in ghastly events, the traumatizing of boys by boys.

The soldier-angel would weep.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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