Violent hazing at Toronto private school goes back decades, alumnus claims

FILE- St. Michael's College School Sept. 5, 2015.
Image Credit: FLICKR Jeff Hitchcock

TORONTO - An alumnus of a prestigious Toronto private school at the centre of a police investigation into allegations of assault and sexual assault alleges he experienced violent hazing at the institution decades ago.

Jean-Paul Bedard, who attended St. Michael's College School in the '80s, said he was prompted to come forward by news that eight students had been expelled and another was suspended in the wake of multiple incidents, one of which involved an alleged sexual assault.

Toronto police sources said one incident, which was captured on video, involved a group of students on the football team pinning down another student and allegedly sexually assaulting him with a broom handle. The sources said another incident involved members of the basketball team bullying a student and soaking him with water.

It's not known whether any of the alleged incidents involved hazing, but Bedard said that's what he experienced when he played on the football team after transferring to the school in Grade 9.

"I didn't realize at the time, but there was a bit of an initiation rite. And I experienced sexualized violence," said Bedard, now 52, in an interview.

"I just dismissed it as 'boys will be boys,' and it's part of the macho culture and all that stuff," he said. "But then when I saw the story in the news earlier this week at St. Mike's, I realized — here we are 35 years later, and this is still going on."

On Friday, the school said it had also reported a third incident but declined to provide any details. Police encouraged anyone with information to come forward.

While Bedard remains an elite athlete today — spending his time on the running trail instead of the football field — he has also become an author and an advocate for survivors of sexual violence.

St. Michael's College School did not respond to requests for comment about Bedard's allegations, but notes in a statement on its website that the most recent incidents are "unacceptable and fall far short of upholding the principles we strive to live by."

"As school administrators and educators, we bear a heavy responsibility to help guide our students through a challenging period in their lives — when external forces are often in conflict with the notion of doing the right thing — and these incidents were a stark reminder that we have more work to do," the school said.

Dave Cooper, an associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto, said hazing — an extreme form of bullying — is nothing new, nor is it uncommon.

"The culture of a boys school very strong in tradition and sport, is a very masculine, hegemonic type of culture," said Cooper, who has been a varsity coach for nearly two decades.

Especially in male sports teams it's common for boys to want to assert dominance, he said, which can take the form of initiations where new players have to perform a task or face some kind of consequence.

Cooper said hazing continues in part because those who do it to others think it's acceptable because it was done to them.

"It's doesn't surprise me that there's some form of initiation going on," he said. "It's usually a tradition, it's passed down. It's part of the old boys' culture."

Cooper said hazing is meant to make newer players feel humiliated, and as if they have to comply in order to be accepted.

But for some, the word "hazing" minimizes the violence that is sometimes involved.

Joseph Gillis, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, said he prefers to use the term "ritualized violence" so that such acts aren't normalized.

"Ritualized violence is particularly problematic, especially in schools ... because of the notion of toxic masculinity," he said. "So these circumstances are all-male environments where the most negatives aspects of male stereotypes and behaviour — the aggression, lack of empathy, dominance, control of others — intensifies and goes unchecked."

Gillis said these incidents have a lasting impact on victims and can cause anxiety, depression and social isolation associated with the shame and stigma of being bullied. He said victims can also have difficulty forming relationships because they might be less likely to trust others.


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