St. Michael’s College School group sex assault scandal and broader thoughts on the charity sector

November 18, 2018 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: News, What's New from the Charities Directorate of CRA, Canadian Charity Law, Ethics and Canadian Charities

There have been a number of articles in the media on a Catholic school in Toronto called St. Michael’s College School over the last week and a number of recent incidents involving sexual assault and what the National Post describes as "Broomstick sexual assault".  St. Michael's College School is a registered charity.  Here is information on our Charitydata.ca website on St. Michael's College School. 

Here are some recent articles and there will probably be more:


Broomstick sexual assault at Toronto's St. Michael's school involved members of football team (National Post)

St. Michael's private school alerts police to 3rd incident amid ongoing sexual assault investigation (CBC)

How could things have gone so wrong at St. Mike’s? (Toronto Star)

St Michael's College holds town hall for parents amid allegations (CityNews)

Lawyer receives 'unusual' number of complaints about bullying at St. Michael's College School (CityNews)

Toronto private school expels eight teens after incidents, alleged sex assault

I went to St. Michael’s College. I’m not surprised by the news (Globe and Mail Opinion)

Former St. Michael’s student says he endured ‘sexualized initiation’ in the 1980s (CTV News)

St. Michael's College School students expelled after video of alleged group sex assault circulates (CityNews)

St. Mike’s did not report alleged sexual assault video to police, Toronto police say (Toronto Star)

Parents, students call for accountability amid St. Michael's College assault investigation (Global News)

Here are some thoughts:

1) We have a culture in Canada of silence when people and institutions do really bad things.  As an aside, we also now seem to have a new culture of apologizing 50 or a 100 years later but still have no interest whatsoever in dealing with abuse around the time it happens or stopping the abuse. 

2) We have secrecy provisions in the Income Tax Act that prohibit the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency from disclosing any information about a registered charity, except the charity's annual return and some other listed documents  - except after a charity is officially revoked.  So CRA cannot disclose whether it is investigating the charity, it cannot disclose whether it finds systemic abuse or malfeasance of any kind, it cannot disclose whether the charity has entered into a compliance agreement etc. etc. We need to end this culture of silence -  which both Liberal and Conservative governments seem quite comfortable with.  Here is one of many submissions on having greater transparency in the non-profit and charity sector. 

3) St. Michael’s College School is a Catholic high school.   There are rules for religious charities.  They cannot do anything that they want or allow anything to happen and then claim it is all for "advancing religion".  The Federal Minister of National Revenue is Diane Lebouthillier.  She has refused to release CRA's guidance on advancing religion which discusses what is advancing religion and some of the rules for religious charities.  Admittedly the CRA guidance on advancing religion by now is completely watered down - but even so the Minister is not prepared to allow the CRA to release the guidance which was essentially finalized 5 years ago under the previous Conservative and is being used by CRA in its policy and enforcement activities.  The rule of law is very important.  The CRA which is the main regulator of registered charities should publish the guidance.  Is the Federal government's refusal to publish the Guidance on advancing religion encouraging a culture of impunity amongst some religious organizations and/or is it a precursor to taking the status of all religious charities away?   

4) I would not be surprised if this sort of abuse happens in many schools in Canada.  Some are asking why are we talking about this school?  First, it was filmed.  Second, it was circulated to hundreds of people online. Third, the media found out about it.  Fourth, the media contacted the school and the police.  Fifth, the media wrote about the story.   If any of the above did not happen we probably would not be hearing of this story.  The fact that this happened at an expensive 'prestigious' religious private school in the middle of Toronto also probably plays into the interest.    

5) I can imagine based on some of the other complaints in the media - some going back decades - that there might be litigation or a class action lawsuit against the school.   Preventing problems and having effective risk management and safeguarding systems is much less expensive and damaging than defending lawsuits.  Such lawsuits will also damage the reputation of the school.  If the claims are high enough it might eventually shut down the school completely.  

6) I normally talk about the importance of a charity dealing with a crisis situation carefully.  In this case, there are certainly some positives in the response of the school including expelling about 8 students.  However, the school did not notify the police quickly as they should have and they have not seemingly disciplined or fired any staff.   When the dust settles we may, or may not, know more about the school's reaction.  However, the biggest communications disaster may not be the actions of school officials but instead the media seemed to have also interviewed a number of parents, I guess whose children were not sodomized or bullied, and the response of these parents seems to be a little tone deaf to the concerns of the public in this circumstance.  Perhaps the media unfairly edited the responses but certainly the school will need to spend a lot of time educating the parents on acceptable behaviour, changes that will be forthcoming at the school, the importance of stopping bullying, etc. 

Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?

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Charity Lawyer Mark Blumberg

Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.

mark@blumbergs.ca
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