Dave Trafford had an incredible time at St. Michael’s College School four decades ago. He was the student body president, played on the hockey team, performed in musicals and ran its newspaper. He had a close group of friends who all had a great time.
Or so he thought.
Last week, as the all-boys private school in Toronto was rocked by allegations of assault and sexual assault by students, Trafford discovered that two of his best friends had struggled with bullying and felt unsafe at St. Michael’s.
“I did not see it then,” Trafford said. “It’s shocking, disappointing and heartbreaking.”
A criminal investigation triggered by a video that police sources say shows several members of a St. Michael’s sports team pinning down a student and sexually assaulting him with a broom handle has now expanded to include at least six incidents. Six students – aged 14 and 15 – are already facing sex assault-related charges and police have warned more charges could follow.
The school has admitted that it has failed in its responsibility to keep students safe, saying the recent incidents clearly indicate it has a problem.
“We need to do much better at our culture and our student’s ability to talk to us,” the school’s principal, Greg Reeves, said earlier this week after police announced the criminal charges against the six students.
The growing scandal has forced alumni to grapple with the past and a number of them are coming forward with their own experiences of bullying and harassment at the school that stretches back decades.
“There’s a real opportunity for the school to take a good look at itself and go deep and figure out how and why it happened and how they missed this,” Trafford said. “And to find out everything that has happened in the past.”
A number of former students who spoke with The Canadian Press said they’re eager to share their stories as part of an internal review promised by the school.
Nathan Goveas graduated from St. Michael’s in 2003.
“I was bullied the entire time I was there, right from day one,” said Goveas, who’s now a teacher.
He wasn’t involved in sports.
“I’m a skinny brown kid. People made fun of my appearance. It was mostly verbal bullying,” he said.
He never complained, but said his mother grew worried when she noticed he was feeling “down” in Grade 11. So she went to the administration.
“The principal dismissed it as boys will be boys,” Goveas said. The bullying continued.
Kyle Fraser said he left St. Michael’s in 2013 after Grade 10, unable to deal with the bullying.
“Leaving was the best decision of my life,” he said.
“I was bullied non stop, very relentless, not only by the students (but also) by the staff.”
He said he was picked on because he struggled with math and science and also because he wasn’t as good at hockey as some other students there.
“All that stuff affected me for a very long time,” he said. He became depressed and anxious.
“I was suicidal at one point. It got really bad.”
Fraser, who now studies at a university in Ohio, shared his story at an alumni meeting at the school on Tuesday night and received a lot of support afterward.
“It was very warming and put me in a peaceful state of mind,” he said. “There are a lot of good people there.”
Fraser and Goveas said there was a wide range of opinions at the meeting.
“I think some alumni aren’t willing to recognize the issues,” Goveas said.
Jean-Paul Bedard went public with his story last week in wake of the scandal. He lived through a violent, sexualized hazing incident at the school in the 1980s. He didn’t attend the alumni meeting, but has offered his services to the school as not only a survivor of sexual assault, but also as a trained trauma peer mentor. The school has yet to take up his offer.
“I’m skeptical of this review, but I will certainly be sharing my story,” he said. “Their attitude seems to be ‘we know how to fix this and don’t need outside help.“’
D’Arcy McKeown said he had a great time at St. Michael’s. Just a few months after graduating from the Roman Catholic school in 2005, he says he was sexually assaulted with a broom handle at McGill University as part of a hazing with the football team.
He left after just two weeks and returned to his alma mater, St. Michael’s, which he called a “safe space to recover.” He volunteered with the school’s football program for a time, before eventually resuming his studies at the University of Toronto.
McKeown applauded the school’s desire to take a victim-centric approach as it deals with both the current incidents and the historical “deep dive” into its culture.
“You need to get everything out there,” he said. “If others’ unfortunate experiences can help guide St. Mike’s in preventing these things going forward, it’s for the best, as painful as it may be for some to tell these stories.”
St. Michael’s alumni will be helping the school with mentorship and workshops in the coming days and weeks in an effort to help the current students.