The principal of an Ontario private school, where videos of an alleged sexual assault have led to arrests of students, has said he was aware of the footage but had not yet contacted police.
Greg Reeves admitted Sunday that he didn’t report the alleged sexual assault to police earlier in the week because the victim had not yet informed his parents about the incident.
Reeves said he intended to tell police, but law enforcement showed up at the school themselves before he got the chance.
St. Michael’s failure to promptly report the incidents to police has raised questions about how private schools handle such incidents and whether more government oversight is needed.
Do principals, teachers and other professionals working with children have a duty to report such incidents — and as soon as possible?
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What’s the law?
Professionals are required by law to report cases or suspicions of abuse or assault to the children’s aid society, as per the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.
Toronto-based lawyer Jordan Donich explained to Global News that the law clearly states that duty to report is immediate.
Section 125 of the act reads: “Despite the provisions of any other Act, if a person, including a person who performs professional or official duties with respect to children, has reasonable grounds to suspect one of the following, the person shall immediately report the suspicion and the information on which it is based to a society.”
Donich explained that things get more complex when it comes to determining what exactly “immediately” means.
“The question is, what does immediate mean? Is it hours, is it days, is it weeks? That’s the grey area. What immediate means will likely depend on the facts of each scenario, and that’s why we’re seeing develop .”
He explained that ironing out some of those practical questions about enforcing the law often comes down rules set by school boards, regulatory bodies and local police.
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Other regulatory bodies
For example, in accordance with the law, the Ontario College of Teachers’ website notes the requirement to report applies to children who are under 16. But reports can include older children when warranted.
The abuse that must be reported includes physical, sexual, emotional, and also suspicions of neglect or risk of harm.
“It applies to all Ontario Certified Teachers (OCT) at all times and includes teachers, consultants, vice-principals, principals, supervisory officers, directors of education and those working in non-school-board positions,” the website explains.
“Each has a different role. All share the responsibility for the protection of children and youth.”
The website adds: “Your duty to report is immediate. If you have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is in need of protection, report your suspicion, and the information on which it is based, immediately to your local children’s aid society.”
But private schools aren’t always governed by teachers’ groups or government bodies like public ones are. It’s a problem Toronto police have also flagged as the St. Michael’s case unfolds.
Private schools in Toronto don’t have reporting protocols
A high-ranking Toronto police officer investigating the alleged assaults at St. Michael’s College School explained that private schools don’t have rules for reporting crimes to authorities similar to the ones all public schools have in place.
Insp. Domenic Sinopoli, head of the sex crimes unit, said all public school boards in the city have signed protocols with Toronto police that spell out the institutions’ responsibilities and the response to incidents where police involvement is required.
He said private schools such as St. Michael’s, an all-boys’ institution that teaches Grades 7 to 12, do not have such agreements with police.
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What is St. Michael’s bullying policy, then?
St. Michael’s does have its own bullying policy, and it stipulates: “St. Michael’s will respond to any Bullying in a swift and compassionate manner.”
“If you witness Bullying, do not hesitate to intervene and take steps immediately to separate the Bully from the Victim. You should then report the occurrence of Bullying to the Principal of St. Michael’s,” it reads. “If necessary, call the Police.”
While it encourages a “swift” response and does mention calling police, it does not offer details on what the actual timeline should be.
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— With files from The Canadian Press
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