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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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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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