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I loved being class president at St. Mike’s. Here’s what it is getting wrong

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Liam Mather is a former class president at St. Michael’s College School who graduated in 2013. He holds a B.A. in History from McGill University. Mather is now based in Beijing where he manages a high school debate league. This piece is adapted from a posting he originally wrote on Facebook.

After much painful reflection about the recent sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School, I have a few thoughts that I want to share.

Liam Mather seen in Beijing this year. He is wearing a St. Mike's sweater.
Liam Mather seen in Beijing this year. He is wearing a St. Mike’s sweater.  (Courtesy Liam Mather)

I am deeply saddened for the victim. The assault was unspeakably violent. I am disturbed that he was repeatedly victimized as images of the assault were shared across social media, and I am upset by the school administration’s initial response. I pray that this boy is receiving support.

There is a powerful stigma against victims of sexual violence. Our conversations must be focused on caring for this boy and other victims that are coming forward. We must talk about how the school can prevent and respond to future assaults, or this story will repeat itself.

Personally, I have been struggling to reconcile my overwhelmingly positive experience at St. Mike’s with this horrific assault. I cherished my time at the school. Serving as the student government president made me proud. I wasn’t an athlete, but I benefited from the school’s academic rigour and rich extracurricular programming. I had wonderful mentors, such as Father Malo, who taught me values like compassion, personal discipline, and love of scholarship. I became politically conscious through the fine teaching of Paul Barry, Norah Higgins-Burnham, and too many others to name. My parents made sacrifices to send me and my brother, Thomas, to St. Mike’s — and we worked hard to make those sacrifices worthwhile. I had great friendships that transcended social cliques. I felt safe, happy, and supported.

Read more:

Rosie DiManno: Media are not the enemy in the St. Michael’s sex assault scandal

St. Michael’s College School president and principal resign in wake of sexual assault scandal

What we know and don’t know about the scandal at St. Michael’s College School — and what we can’t report

Since news of the sexual assault broke, I’ve felt a range of emotions: depression, anger, humiliation, confusion, even guilt. I felt devastated that such a violent assault occurred on campus. I also felt discomfort watching national and international media outlets attack the sanctity of my positive memories of the school. Were they wrong? Or had I overlooked something as a student?

But let’s be clear about the main issue. The school is not a victim. The alumni who feel defensive are not victims. A student was sexually assaulted within the school. He is the victim. The ones who perpetrated the assault, the ones who filmed and posted it on social media, and the ones who stood by and said nothing as the assault happened, they were also students. What compelled them to commit or enable this terrible crime?

It is morally imperative and prudent that graduates critically reflect on the school’s culture. It is convenient, dishonest and dangerous for graduates to frame the assault as the independent behaviour of a few exceptionally bad students. The school needs to assess the factors that contributed to these students’ destructive behaviour — and prevent this story from happening again. As alumni, if any harmful values were cultivated during our time at the school, we need to identify those values and discard them. That is the courageous way to move forward.

Liam Mather, right, with his younger brother, Thomas, at Thomas's graduation from St. Mike's in 2017.
Liam Mather, right, with his younger brother, Thomas, at Thomas’s graduation from St. Mike’s in 2017.

My personal reflections and my discussions with some alumni have led me to the following conclusions.

First, the assault absolutely reflects a cultural failure of the school. The notions that define manhood are changing. Society used to demand that men be physically strong, emotionless and chauvinistic. But increasingly, empathy and intelligence are valued. What version of manhood is St. Mike’s imparting onto its boys?

The school seemed to be grappling with this question when I was a student. Long renowned for its athletic programs, the school also began promoting music, dance, theatre, media production and visual arts. It built a multimillion dollar performance centre on campus, which opened in 2010. The space for artists, writers and dedicated students expanded; I genuinely felt that the school encouraged my intellectual curiosity. Teachers and the administration began promoting mental health awareness. The Basilians preached a liberal interpretation of doctrine. There was more collaboration with girls’ schools.

However, the school retained a hypermasculine subculture, in which conventional masculine values were incubated. When I was a student, this subculture lurked in the shadows of the locker hallways and the changing rooms. If you put teenage boys together, without adult supervision, aggressive behaviour can carry social rewards. Boys can feel an urge to act dominant; other boys will feel reluctant to challenge the alphas. This is well-established in psychology literature. When I was at St. Mike’s, hypermasculinity sometimes degenerated into bullying. I think the recent assault is a particularly heinous outgrowth of hypermasculinity. This subculture might not be unique to St. Mike’s, and might not define St. Mike’s, but it is there.

The St. Mike’s administration has a responsibility to correct the perverse psychological incentives of its students. It must establish a zero-tolerance policy for “boys being boys” behaviour. It needs to delineate the spaces where controlled aggression is acceptable (on the football field) and where it is not (in the locker room, everywhere else). It needs to reaffirm to all of its boys that it is OK to be gentle, caring and artistic. While there is obviously a significant difference between a dust-up in the hallway and sexual assault, the line is finer than people think. I don’t say this to be glib, but consider Piggy’s death in Lord of the Flies. The dominant tendencies of young boys, when unchecked, can have catastrophic consequences. St. Mike’s never fully focused its efforts on stamping out these tendencies.

A second and related problem is that St. Mike’s, overall, was not a nurturing place for gay students. I am straight, and I do not wish to speak on behalf of all gay former students. I have reached this conclusion after speaking with many of my close friends at St. Mike’s who were gay, as well as through personal retrospection about the culture. Many gay students thrived at the school. However, they did not receive outward institutional support and faced widespread homophobic attitudes from students — and even from a few teachers. It was common for boys to use homophobic language in an effort to emasculate and assert dominance over their peers. Many gay students were not comfortable coming out at St. Mike’s. I do not think this has changed since I graduated in 2013. This is unacceptable.

I want to echo the call of my courageous friend and former class vice-president, Jonah Macan, for the school to found a gay-straight alliance to fight homophobia and promote inclusiveness.

The third problem is also related to hypermasculinity. It is an issue that I have been reflecting on since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely went public with her sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. I was troubled by the media’s portrayal of Kavanaugh’s high school, an all-boys Catholic private school where gross sexism was ingrained into the student body. It haunted me because Kavanaugh’s school reminded me of St. Mike’s.

When I was a student, many of my classmates had a hyper-sexualized view of women. This toxic attitude went mostly unchallenged by the school, except by a few teachers and staff. The school did not actively promote positive relationships with women. It did not rigorously teach feminism or consent. For the students who tried to resist sexist social currents, many still did not a develop a deep understanding of women’s health, social or political issues. Everyone has some personal responsibility for their attitudes and behaviours; I also call on my classmates to reflect on how they treat the women in their lives. But St. Mike’s should impart on its students a positive understanding of what it means to respect women. A new program, aimed at teaching Grade 11 and 12 students about consent, is a step in the right direction.

Some of you might still insist on disconnecting the assault from the school’s culture. To you, I say the following. Even if you think the assault is an outlier, society does not tolerate the male behaviours and attitudes that I have described. We can use recent events as an opportunity for critical self-reflection and growth. For the interests of the school as an institution — not to mention for the well-being of future students, women and everyone else — St. Mike’s needs to confront the negative parts of its culture.

The final point I would like to make concerns the response to the assault by the school and the broader community. First, the administration’s initial response was wrong. The administration should have reported the assault to the police immediately. After all, private institutions have powerful incentives (their reputation, money) to cover up sexual assaults.

Maybe we can give the previous administration the benefit of the doubt regarding its intentions. However, the optics are still damaging to all victims within the school, who might lose trust in the administration and authority figures more broadly. The response is especially unacceptable given the recent history of the Catholic Church covering up sexual assault. As members of a Catholic community, we must hold the school to a high standard.

Gregory Reeves, the St. Michael's College School principal when the scandal about alleged school sexual assaults broke. Reeves resigned just over a week ago.
Gregory Reeves, the St. Michael’s College School principal when the scandal about alleged school sexual assaults broke. Reeves resigned just over a week ago.  (Christopher Katsarov)

With the resignations of Principal Greg Reeves and President Father Jefferson Thompson, the incoming administration must undergo training on how to respond to sexual assault in a manner that is consistent with victims’ interests.

Second, I am disappointed that so many former students have blindly defended the school, without also acknowledging the suffering of the victim. One implication of some graduates’ nostalgic Facebook posts is that they stand in solidarity with the school as its reputation tanks, and not in solidarity with the victim. This is probably unintentional, but it is inexcusable. We should focus our energies on supporting the victim and asking hard questions about the school’s culture.

These posts have another negative implication. They might deter other victims in the St. Mike’s community from speaking out, because they will feel uneasy about further tarnishing the school’s reputation. There are almost certainly other victims of sexual assault or bullying in the community who have been suffering in silence. I urge alumni to express support for all victims of sexual assault and severe bullying. You might not have been a bully. You might have not been bullied. You might have enjoyed your time at the school, as I did. But evidently, it was not a safe place for every student. We must validate the experiences of victims, rather than stifle their voices.

I am also a little embarrassed by the parents and alumni who have criticized the media. Again, the school is not the victim. The victim is the victim. The assault was a brutal crime and is a matter of public interest. The media uncovered this story; they have been hawkish because the school was not immediately transparent; they have kept the story in the news cycle because more assaults came to light. The broader public is judging our community’s capacity to respond with empathy. If you pretend the school is the primary victim, you are not only being insensitive to real victims, you are actively reinforcing negative tropes about the community.

At the end of the culture review, the leadership of St. Michael’s must make a decision. It can pretend nothing is wrong. In doing so, it will edge out a new niche in the Toronto private school market as the bastion of male chauvinism. Maybe this version of the school can still win football championships. But I will not want anything to do with it.

Alternatively, after a long and difficult introspection, the school can make the difficult choice. It can build out progressive programming that confronts its cultural problems and prevents future assaults. There is going to be resistance to these changes, because our beloved school is old, and old places are bad at changing.

But hopefully, over time, the phrase “St. Michael’s Man” can acquire a new, robust meaning: a man that excels in the classroom, on the field, on the stage and in the debating hall. A man who treats women with respect. A man who has the space to explore alternative sexualities. A man who respects his peers. A man who will still win a Metro Bowl ring. I have faith that the good people at St. Michael’s will make this choice. The right choice.



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A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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Anglais

9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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