College closures announced as city prepares for winter storm

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George Brown College and Centennial College campuses will be closed Tuesday in anticipation of an icy winter storm expected to hit the city early Tuesday.

George Brown tweeted that child care lab centres will also be closed and continuing education classes will be cancelled for Tuesday evening.

With snow and freezing rain in the forecast on Tuesday, Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for Toronto.
With snow and freezing rain in the forecast on Tuesday, Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for Toronto.  (Randy Risling / Toronto Star)

All of Centennial College campuses will be closed, including Ashtonbee, Downsview, Morningside, Progress and Story Arts Centre. The college tweeted that the closures include all daytime and evening classes, child care centres and other services. Campuses are expected to reopen Wednesday.

The proactive closure announcements came after Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning for Toronto, calling for high winds and between 15 and 25 centimetres of snow, ice pellets and possible freezing rain.

“Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become difficult to navigate due to accumulating snow,” Environment Canada warned. “Visibility will be suddenly reduced to near zero at times in heavy snow and blowing snow. There may be a significant impact on rush hour traffic in urban areas.”

Other local schools have not yet announced their plans.

Ryerson and York Universities, as well as Humber College (including the University of Guelph-Humber), have said they are monitoring the weather and will provide an update on campus operations by 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Seneca College will provide an update by 6 a.m. and the University of Waterloo at 6:30 a.m.

Durham College remains open and all activities are expected to continue as scheduled, although the college said it’s keeping a close eye on the weather. As of Monday night, the University of Toronto campuses are expected to be open.

Pearson airport is expecting delays and cancellations and has advised travellers to check in with their airlines to confirm flight statuses before leaving for the airport.

Claire Floody is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @claire_floody

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More than 400 students in India told to retake language tests after Niagara College flags concerns

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An Ontario college has raised concerns over the validity of the scores of a popular international standardized language test submitted by students applying from India after a probe found “inconsistencies” in language proficiency.

Niagara College has contacted more than 400 students admitted to its January 2019 programs who had taken IELTS tests at locations in India, telling them they had to undergo a second English test or risk losing their offer of admission.

Niagara College flagged concerns with “inconsistencies” in the scores of English-language tests taken by students applying from India. It has asked 428 applicants to retake the test in India or risk having their offers of acceptance cancelled.
Niagara College flagged concerns with “inconsistencies” in the scores of English-language tests taken by students applying from India. It has asked 428 applicants to retake the test in India or risk having their offers of acceptance cancelled.  (Niagara College)

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is accepted by most Canadian academic institutions and is one of two major English language tests used by Immigration Canada as independent proof of an immigration or citizenship applicant’s language proficiency.

Steve Hudson, Niagara College’s vice-president of academic and learner services, said the school launched an investigation this fall after the number of first-year international students flagged by faculty for being “at risk academically” surged to 300 from an average of 150 in previous years.

Those students were made to take an in-house language test and the college found 200 out of that group were failing in their academic programs because their English was not at the required level. Further investigation found 80 per cent of them were from India and had taken their IELTS tests at locations run by Australia-based IDP Education.

Niagara College said officials alerted IDP Education with their findings shortly after the fall semester started and notified immigration authorities last week.

“Based on (our analysis), we felt we needed to be absolutely certain that applicants for our winter 2019 term have a level of English proficiency that will allow them to succeed, and we wanted to do this before they invested significant time and money to travel here to study,” Hudson said in a statement to the Star.

The IELTS test, which is jointly owned by IDP Education, the British Council and Cambridge Assessment English, is a three-hour exam that assesses candidates’ listening, reading, writing and speaking skills on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 9 indicates the person is an “expert user” with full command of the language. But it is up to individual organizations to determine a pass score.

More than three million IELTS tests were taken in the last year by people around the world, according to IDP Education.

“The test is recognized for being fair to all test-takers regardless of nationality, cultural background, gender or special needs,” Warwick Freeland, managing director of IELTS/IDP Education, said in an email statement from Melbourne.

“IELTS is the leading English language test for international students in Canada,” he said, adding “results from all IELTS test centres, including all centres located in India, continue to be accepted for admission to Niagara College.”

In a followup email to the Star on Saturday, IDP Education raised questions about the value of the in-house test Niagara College gave to the Indian international students in the fall cohort, saying the college “used a low-stakes” test which is “not approved by Canadian education institutions or government to check their English language skills.”

Niagara College’s Hudson said the IELTS language test results submitted by the first-year at-risk students from India this fall were authenticated by IELTS and the school is treating the “inconsistencies” in their scores and language proficiency as a one-time anomaly. “We continue to believe IELTS is a good test for assessment of English proficiency,” he told the Star.

“We have been open to dialogue with IDP and have been communicating our interest in understanding (the) rationale for the larger number of students identified being at risk of failure,” Hudson said in a followup email on Saturday. “Academic quality and student success has always been and will remain at the core of Niagara College’s decision-making.”

An Immigration Department spokesperson said officials are looking into the matter.

There have been previous instances that have exposed the vulnerability of the administration of language testing around the world:

  • A Pennsylvania State University student from China pleaded guilty this year after paying someone to take the TOEFL English-language entrance exam for her.
  • In 2016, several people in Britain were convicted of running an immigration scam that paid fake “sitters” to take TOEIC language exams for non-EU students.
  • In Australia, an employee at Curtin University’s English Language Centre was found guilty in 2011 of accepting bribes and manipulating IELTS results through the centre’s computer system. The case triggered an investigation by Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission.

Freeland, who said IDP Education partners with a range of organizations who administer IELTS in 140 countries, maintained “IELTS is a secure and valid indicator of a candidate’s ability.”

“All test centres are rigorously monitored to ensure they operate to the highest of standards,” he said.

The test, which costs about $215 in India, has two versions, one for higher-level academic purposes and a general version that measures a person’s ability to function in English.

Niagara College said the school will be responsible for covering the cost of retesting for the 428 students in India and the tests must be completed by Monday.

Gonzalo Peralta, executive director of Languages Canada, an association that represents more than 200 providers of accredited English and French language programs across the country, said maintaining the integrity of language tests is important to the international education sector.

“Language testing is one tool that tells everybody — the students, institutions, Immigration Canada and employers — with confidence that this person is ready to perform linguistically,” he said in an interview. “You can’t run international education without appropriate and good-quality testing. So much depends on it.”

Alarm Raised Over Validity of International Language Tests | Story Behind the Story

Peralta said test operators constantly update their security measures and have tight rules in place at local test centres, including requiring photo ID and banning cellphones.

When informed about the situation at Niagara College, Peralta said, “I’m concerned it impacts one of our good members, Niagara College. I’m also concerned for the students who have invested substantially to learn. I’m concerned about IDP, not knowing what has happened.”

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, there were 494,525 international students in Canada at all levels of study in 2017, a 17 per cent increase over the previous year. Some 123,940, or 25 per cent, of these students came from India, which made up the second largest contingent behind China.

At Niagara College, which has campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake, 2,914 of a total 4,683 international students come from India. Tuition fees for international students average $13,500, more than triple the amount their Canadian peers pay.

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Hudson said the school received about 8,200 international applications for the winter 2019 term, of which 4,800 applicants were from India, where the school recruits through international education fairs. The college made 1,300 admission offers to Indian applicants; 428 of those students have been asked to retake the IELTS test or take the alternative Pearson Test of English.

“We recognize that this is stressful for these applicants and their families, but we want to ensure that before they make significant financial and emotional investments involved with travelling to Niagara College to study, that they have the opportunity to be successful in their studies,” said Hudson.

“We believe the hardship they would experience if they were to travel here and be unable to succeed in their program of study would be much more significant. We will continue to engage with the applicants and IDP throughout this process.”

Hudson said those “at-risk” students who are already attending the college have either been redirected to language programs or offered additional language and academic support.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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Scandal at St. Michael’s College School prompts calls for greater oversight of private schools

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The scandal at St. Michael’s College School, where police are investigating allegations of assault and sexual assault, is prompting calls for greater oversight of privately run schools.

Any school, publicly funded or private, “has to have transparency and good governance,” says Charles Pascal, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

“You can’t play hide-and-seek in publicly funded schools, so it’s imperative that this long-standing free pass for private schools is replaced with better governance,” said Pascal, a former Ontario deputy minister of education.

His comments come on the heels of allegations of assault and sexual assault involving students at the all-boys grades 7-12 school, located at Bathurst St. and St. Clair Ave. W.

About two weeks ago, two videos, of an alleged assault in a washroom and an alleged sexual assault in a locker room, appeared on social media.

The principal learned of the sexual assault video on a Monday evening, but didn’t immediately notify police, because he was busy with the victim and in meetings involving the expulsion of students. On the Wednesday, around 11 a.m., police showed up at the school after media began asking them about the sexual assault video. The principal says he always intended on calling police about it.

This week, six boys were charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon. Police are now investigating six incidents at the school including two alleged sexual assaults, three alleged assaults and one incident related to threatening.

The school’s principal and president resigned.

In Ontario, there are about 1,300 private schools, with 140,000 students, that operate as businesses or non-profit organizations, independent of the Ministry of Education, but must follow the Education Act. The Ministry doesn’t regulate, licence, accredit or oversee the operation of private schools, and has a buyer-beware type of warning on its website, urging the public to do its own research before registering for them. Information on a school’s educational program, business practices and other policies should be obtained from it directly.

The ministry, however, outlines courses students must take to obtain an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, requires private schools submit an annual Notice of Intention to Operate and inspects high schools. Principals and teachers in private schools aren’t required to be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Anyone who works with children must abide by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA), which clearly stipulates that they have an immediate duty to report suspected abuse or harm to a children’s aid society. Public school boards have protocols in place for when they should notify police, which covers incidents such as those of sexual assault.

Barbara Bierman, executive director of Ontario Federation of Independent Schools, which represents 149 private schools, says the law is very clear in the duty to report. And, some private schools do have protocols with police, but whether they do varies by region.

“They (schools) have to have policies in place for abuse prevention and intervention,” she said. “Otherwise, they don’t get insurance.”

St. Mike’s, which is overseen by a board of directors, is a member of the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS Ontario), an association of 48 private schools. CIS Ontario did not respond to the Star about whether its members have protocols in place.

Police welcome the opportunity to help St. Mike’s, and other private schools, with protocols, and, at a St. Mike’s alumni meeting this week, the administration said it plans to debrief with them on whether the episode could have been handled better.

Given what’s come to light at St. Mike’s, it’s time for the government to tighten its oversight of private schools, said NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles.

“It’s really kind of striking, when you look at what the Education Act requires of private schools,” Stiles said. “I think even parents of children in private schools would be surprised at how little oversight, and how little regulation, is required.”

Stiles said the government should mandate that private schools have clear processes in place when dealing with incidents such as those at St. Mike’s.

When she was a Toronto public school board trustee, she had to review, on a yearly basis, such protocols, the CYFSA, and her responsibilities as an employer.

“It’s quite striking to me that maybe that’s not required” outside the public system, she said. “At the very least, this indicates that there are some shortcomings in the private education system around understanding what people’s responsibilities are and what the protocols are, and that needs to be made clear.”

Marvin Zuker, a retired provincial court justice who is an associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, would like to see the Ontario College of Teachers regulate all teachers, whether they’re certified or not.

“Then they would be subject to the discipline of the college, and, once we can discipline you, we can get rid of you and you’re not going to go next door to teach.”

When it comes to reporting abuse, Zuker, who’s been teaching education law for nearly 40 years, always tells his students to contact a children’s aid society and police immediately. He plans on using the St. Mike’s case as an example in his lessons of what not to do, calling it “a great learning tool.”

MPP Mitzie Hunter, who served as education minister in the previous Liberal government, said, when it comes to private schools, “the expectation would be the same as all public schools: that every student is safe and there’s a trust there. When parents send their children to school, that safety is paramount and there’s no compromise on that safety.”

With 95 per cent of Ontario students attending public school, it’s a small percentage who are in the private system and it may be time to look at changes, she said.

Public boards have “various levels of supervision and trustees who are publicly elected, so there’s additional oversight. There’s no question that, in the public system, there are many layers of oversight which do not exist in the private system,” she added.

“Certainly, the ministry (of education) has a role in registering those schools and there’s an expectation that they are safe environments, but the layer of oversight is not the same.”

Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, an assistant professor of law society at Wilfrid Laurier University, said protocols with police are “helpful, but not a guarantee,” when it comes to reporting.

“Protocols are a really important part of the network of protection for children,” she said. “When you don’t have that protocol maybe you’d make more of a decision that’s sort of about the institution.”

It looks as if you appreciate our journalism. Our reporting changes lives, connects communities and effects change. But good journalism is expensive to produce, and advertiser revenue throughout the media industry is falling and unable to carry the cost. That means we need you, our readers. We need your help. If you appreciate deep local reporting, powerful investigations and reliable, responsible information, we hope you will support us through a subscription. Please click here to subscribe.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Algonquin College engineering a future that includes more women

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For the past decade, Kathryn Reilander would stand at the front of her classroom and survey her newest crop of students, struggling to find a female face in the crowd.

Reilander is a professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa and every year in her electrical engineering technician program, she only sees an average of eight women in a class of roughly 200. But for the program’s next incoming class, she’s hoping for a dramatic spike in the percentage of women — perhaps as high as 30 per cent, if all goes according to plan.

On Friday, Algonquin College is announcing a bold — and controversial — new approach for increasing the number of women in some of its male-dominated programs: a pilot project that will reserve 30 per cent of classroom seats for female applicants.

The three-year pilot, called “We Saved You a Seat,” guarantees admission to women who meet the minimum admission standards for four of the college’s most popular technology programs: electrical engineering technician, mechanical engineering technology, electro-mechanical engineering technician and computer systems technician.

The initiative is part of a broader push by post-secondary institutions to close the gender gap in so-called STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math), where women are woefully under-represented.

But the strategy of earmarking seats for female students is something schools have largely avoided. Some say this is due to fears over potential backlash — a particularly acute concern in today’s fraught political climate, where debates around gender and equity issues are increasingly polarized.

While other post-secondary schools are taking more indirect approaches to encourage female enrolment, Algonquin appears to be the first in Canada to actually reserve spots for women in STEM classrooms — or, at least, the first to advertise that they’re doing so.

“What’s really important to know is that we’re absolutely not lowering standards,” said Sarah Gauen, Algonquin College’s inclusion and diversity specialist, who spearheaded the pilot. “We are just making sure that the women who are interested, qualified and applying are entering into our program; that they’re not getting screened out due to any other barriers.”

One of those barriers is the oft-cited problem of women who exclude themselves from consideration, perhaps due to lack of confidence, a reluctance to study in a male-dominated environment, or the assumption that certain disciplines are better-suited for men. The pilot hopes to mitigate such concerns and encourage women who are feeling hesitant to at least consider these programs and apply, Gauen said. “If you’re qualified, and you’re a woman, you’re in,” she said.

Applicants still need to meet or exceed the basic requirements, which often include specific high school courses in math or science. On average, each of the four programs register between 79 and 277 students a year and fewer than 10 per cent are women, according to the school’s statistics — though the female students graduate at higher rates than their male counterparts.

If Algonquin College doesn’t receive enough female applicants to meet the 30 per cent goal, the school will reopen admissions to male applicants to ensure there are no empty seats, Gauen said. But she says early numbers from the current application process are already showing high demand; for the computer systems technician program, the college has already started making offers to qualified female applicants and if they all accept, women will already account for 23 per cent of the classroom when the semester starts in May.

Gauen said the pilot will include parallel initiatives to support female students, including new bursaries, mentorship programs, and training for faculty to give them tools for creating truly supportive and gender-inclusive classrooms.

“It’s not quite so simple that if you build it they will come,” she said. “So we’re going to get (women) in the door and we’re going to wrap our arms around them.”

Gauen said the school chose 30 per cent as its target because research has shown this percentage to represent a “critical mass,” a tipping point where minority groups can meaningfully shift the culture of a classroom, workplace or industry.

Other schools and industry leaders are also setting targets for increasing women in STEM, though most are basing their strategies on awareness campaigns, mentorship networks or outreach work with high schools. Engineers Canada has a “30 by 30” campaign aimed at raising the percentage of newly licensed female engineers to 30 per cent by 2030 (currently, the figure is at 17.4 per cent). The University of British Columbia has a goal of reaching 50 per cent female enrolment in engineering by 2020 and York University’s engineering school is pushing to become the first in Canada to achieve gender parity amongst its student population.

But Algonquin College’s approach is particularly aggressive, said Kim Jones, chair of the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering. And with that comes the risk of backfire.

“It is, I think, a controversial approach,” she said. “(Other) approaches have typically not been as aggressive, partly because there have been concerns about backlash effects.”

One potential consequence is that male students will resent their female counterparts and perceive them as being less qualified or receiving special treatment, Jones said. This could foster a classroom environment that ultimately proves more unwelcoming or hostile — thus exacerbating the “chilly climate” problem often blamed for driving women out of STEM disciplines.

“I absolutely wish them good luck in their initiative and I’m very interested to see what the results are like,” Jones said. “But I think it’s not new to see backlash, and that backlash can be very damaging for the students who experience it.”

Jones said Algonquin College will need to work “very hard” to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment for female students. This is especially true given the current social climate where identity issues have become so fraught, said Liette Vasseur, past president of the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology.

She said Algonquin College will also have to work hard to ensure the pilot gets buy-in from professors and instructors, not just students. “I hope that they already have a high level of social acceptability from the faculty members,” she said. “I’m sorry to say this, but I know many faculty members in universities who do not care (about this issue) — and in many cases, it’s not only the men. In some cases it’s women.”

Gauen recognizes the potential for backlash but doesn’t believe a fear of changing the status quo is a good enough reason to shy away from creating more space for women. She believes technology programs offer great career options for women; electrical engineering technologists, for example, enjoy a lot of autonomy and offer starting salaries of at least $50,000, with the potential to hit six figures not long after graduating, according to Reilander.

Gauen pointed to research that gender-diverse classrooms also have positive impacts on male students, teaching them the “soft skills” they need to interact with women in the workplace, or making them more attractive to employers who care about job candidates with diversity skills.

“We are still saving 70 per cent of the seats for men. So this is still in the vast majority,” she said. “This isn’t a win-lose scenario; this is gender equity making things better for everybody.”

Algonquin College student Violet Charbonneau thinks the pilot project will go a long way towards encouraging other women to apply. As a technician student who aspires to get her electrical engineering technology diploma, the 27-year-old sometimes feels lonely in her classrooms, where she’s often either the only woman or just one of two.

Charbonneau sometimes refrains from speaking up or asking questions in class, for fear of drawing even more attention to herself when she already “sticks out like a sore thumb.”

“The guys in the classroom currently have each other and they get all the support they could want,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really great for women to feel the same way.”

It looks as if you appreciate our journalism. Our reporting changes lives, connects communities and effects change. But good journalism is expensive to produce, and advertiser revenue throughout the media industry is falling and unable to carry the cost. That means we need you, our readers. We need your help. If you appreciate deep local reporting, powerful investigations and reliable, responsible information, we hope you will support us through a subscription. Please click here to subscribe.

Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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St. Michael’s College School principal and president resign amid student sex assault scandal

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The principal and president of St. Michael’s College School have both resigned amid allegations of assault and sexual assault between students, according to a statement issued by the private, all-boys’ school Thursday afternoon. 

Principal Greg Reeves and Father Jefferson Thompson, school president, stepped down to allow the Roman Catholic school to move « forward without distractions and allow it to focus on healing and change after the horrific events, » the board of directors of St. Michael’s said in the statement.

« Greg Reeves and Fr. Thompson have always put the welfare, education and formation of our students first — and they do so once again today, » board chair Michael Forsayeth said.

« This courageous decision allows us to move forward with our goals: understanding how these events could have occurred, regaining the trust of our community and bringing cultural change to our school. »

I’m not at all surprised to see it ending this way.– Jean-Paul Bedard, St. Michael’s alumnus

Bill Dunphy, who graduated from St. Michael’s 50 years ago, told CBC News the decision is a « symbolic action » and shows that the board of the prestigious school « really wants to send a signal that they’re looking for decisive action. »

Other alumni, who accused the school of having a culture of « toxic masculinity » and called for reform, say the resignations give the school time to address underlying issues in its classrooms. 

« I’m not at all surprised to see it ending this way, or at least moving along in this direction, » said alumnus Jean-Paul Bedard, a former member of the football team who said he experienced sexual violence during hazing incidents at St. Michael’s 35 years ago. 

« This definitely doesn’t fix the problem, but this allows a potential solution to come through. » 

Alumnus Adam Boni, who graduated in 1987, echoed this and noted it’s an important step in transparency.

« That change allows the school to move on with fresh blood at the helm: new vision and purpose, » he said. 

Principal criticized for handling of incidents

On Wednesday, the school reaffirmed its support for Reeves and Thompson after some alumni had called for senior administrators to resign and for teachers who knew about the assaults to step down. 

Reeves, who has been criticized for not going to police sooner, defended his actions in an interview with CBC’s The National host Adrienne Arsenault earlier this week. 

He said he held off contacting authorities because the alleged victim hadn’t told his family about the incident.

On Tuesday night, Reeves said if presented with the same situation he « would do exactly the same thing. »

Adrienne Arsenault speaks to Greg Reeves, principal at St. Michael’s College School, following the announcement the school is launching an investigation to examine « unacceptable behaviours. » 3:16

Reeves said he notified police Nov. 12 when the administration received a video of an alleged assault, which took place in a washroom. By that evening, school officials said they had received a second video of an alleged sexual assault in a locker room.

Toronto police told reporters Reeves did not report the alleged sexual assault until officers, who had been contacted by media, showed up at the school on Nov 15. 

Insp. Dominic Sinopoli, who heads Toronto police’s sex crimes unit, has said the school should have reported the incident immediately.

St. Michael’s College School in Toronto is at the centre of an unfolding scandal. (Paul Smith/CBC)

In Ontario, the Ministry of Education requires public school boards to develop protocols with the police, that include incidents in which school principals have a mandatory obligation to contact police. Suspected sexual assault is among those incidents.

​However, many of the standards that govern public schools do not apply to private schools, including the duty to report suspected sexual assault to police, said John Schuman, a St. Michael’s alumnus and Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in children’s rights and education law.

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders wouldn’t say whether Reeves will be investigated for not alerting police before he did.

« For me to speculate is unfair, » Saunders told reporters Thursday following a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board.

Andrew Leung, a former science and physics teacher at St. Michael’s, was appointed interim president by the school’s board of directors. He has served as the pastor and rector of Edmonton parishes, St. Alphonsus and St. Clare, for the past two years. 

Three St. Michael’s College School students, left, made a brief court appearance on Monday in Toronto and were released on bail. They will be back in court on Dec. 19. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Earlier this week, police laid criminal charges against six students in connection with a gang sexual assault investigation. 

Police are investigating six cases that involve students of the school, which teaches Grades 7 to 12. Some of the incidents were captured on video and shared online. Police and the school have said two of the six cases involve sexual assault.

St. Michael’s also expelled eight students in connection with the allegations. It’s unclear if any of the eight are among those who have been charged.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, speaking following a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday, said he hopes the resignations will lead to a new chapter at the prestigious school and that new leadership will address the serious issues the allegations have brought to light.

Tory called what’s happening at the school « a real tragedy for everyone concerned. »

St. Michael’s, which is known for its athletic programs, launched a third-party investigation into the present situation and past incidents. School officials hope a preliminary examination will be done by spring with a more in-depth investigation to wrap up next summer. 

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‘It starts at the top.’ Former St. Michael’s College School student demanding changes to regain trust

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It was hard for Kyle Fraser to walk back into the school he left five years ago — hard to see the faces of people he says bullied him there.

But the 21-year-old drove six hours from Ohio, where he’s an undergraduate, to attend a special alumni meeting Tuesday night at St. Michael’s College School. He felt he had to be there.

“I went to fight for change, and fight for the victims,” he told the Star in an interview at his parents’ Scarborough home Wednesday afternoon.

“It starts at the top and that’s where they need to look.”

Fraser, who left the school after Grade 10 because he says he was verbally bullied, was among a crowd of about 300 people who gathered for a three-hour meeting to address a scandal that has enveloped the private boys’ school.

Some, such as Fraser, have expressed anger at the school’s handling of the crisis. But at the Tuesday meeting, many praised principal Greg Reeves.

“Some people said that he did nothing wrong, he had the best interests in mind,” Fraser said.

According to sources, Reeves told the crowd that his focus was always on the victims and students, which drew loud applause and a standing ovation.

Reeves acknowledged the criticism he’s faced for not immediately notifying police when he learned of the alleged sexual assault, but said he takes comfort in knowing that the victim and his parents are supportive of him and said the boy intends to return to school this week. He added that he would do exactly the same thing again.

Some, however, were critical of Reeves. One man said there was an utter failure of leadership, referring to the principal, the board and the Basilian Fathers, who run the school. Another said he had planned on sending his young son there, but was now reconsidering and urged Reeves to apologize and step down, which elicited some applause.

Reeves said he was sorry and regretted what had occurred at the school, but vowed to work hard to ensure such incidents never happen again, which drew even louder applause.

Reeves said upcoming midterm exams have been cancelled so the school can hold workshops to help the boys heal and urged alumni with appropriate skills to make themselves available to talk to students. He also noted the school has set up forums during lunch hour, called ‘Step up to the mic,’ to help students cope, and created a hotline to anonymously report incidents such as bullying.

It is also hiring a full-time social worker and four security guards to patrol the washrooms and locker room. And, an independent third-party committee will do a deep dive into the school’s culture and make recommendations.

Those in attendance also made suggestions, such as implementing a gay-straight alliance at the school, and sending out a survey to all alumni, parents and staff on the school’s handling of this crisis.

Some complained about unfair media coverage and alumni who have gone public with stories of bullying, saying they need to deal with things internally, as a community. Board chair Michael Forsayeth addressed the crowd, saying they need be a united front, and can’t let the outside pick them apart, because divided they will fall.

Reeves has been questioned about why he did not call police on a Monday evening when he received the video of the alleged sexual assault. He has told media he needed time to inform the parents of the victim, who was his first priority, and was busy with expulsion meetings, but “always intended to call police.”

He gave the video to police after they arrived at the school on Wednesday. By that point, reporters were calling police to ask about expulsions and the video.

Both Reeves and the school’s president, Father Jefferson Thompson, have the full support of the board, according to a statement released Wednesday.

“As a board, we are united in our support of the school’s leadership,” Forsayeth said in the statement, adding both Thompson and Reeves were hired because of their “dedication and care for students throughout their careers.”

“They are both men of the highest integrity and continue to have our trust to lead us forward,” the statement reads. “Witnessing the standing ovation at (Tuesday) night’s alumni meeting, many of whom are current and past parents, I believe that Fr. Thompson and Mr. Reeves have their overwhelming support. As a school community, we want to ensure that these incidents do not happen again.”

Police are investigating six incidents at the school, including the locker room video, one other alleged sexual assault, three alleged assaults and one incident related to threatening. Police have four videos, and are encouraging anyone with information to come forward.

Fraser said he would like to see Reeves step down.

“(Parents) are sending their kids there confident that the teachers and staff will protect their kids and give them a safe learning environment and it clearly wasn’t the case with what happened,” he said. “The only way for that bridge to be mended is that someone new has to come in, because once trust is broken it’s very very hard to regain.”

Fraser, who will complete his degree at Bowling Green State University in about three weeks, is happy to hear the school wants alumni to mentor students. He hopes to be one of them. The big question, he says, is why these incidents took place.

Fraser attended St. Michael’s between 2009 and 2013, and he believes the school’s toxic masculinity and “culture of hazing” played a role.

“It needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”

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With files from David Rider

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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

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One of Toronto’s most prestigious private schools has been rocked by the arrests of six students in relation to a video showing a graphic alleged sexual assault in a locker room that was taped and shared on social media.

On Tuesday, with St. Michael’s College School facing questions about when administrators knew about the incident and how they responded, news of more videos surfaced, bringing the total number of incidents Toronto police are now investigating to six.

Here’s what we know, what we don’t know and what we can’t report about the growing scandal at St. Mike’s.

This Star will continue to update this file as the story develops.

WHAT WE KNOW

That police are investigating six incidents in connection with the all-boys school, four involving video: Two of the videos were circulating on social media before police became aware of them. One involves an alleged gang sexual assault in a locker room, the other an alleged assault in a school washroom.

Police on Tuesday described one of the two other videos as showing an assault with a belt and the other as showing “threatening.”

Police have not released details of the two incidents that do not involve video.

That six boys, all young teens, were arrested and charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon in relation to the locker room video, and were released on bail: Five of the boys turned themselves in to police and one was arrested on his way to school on Monday, according to Toronto police Insp. Domenic Sinopoli.

All six were released Monday with their parents as sureties. Two of the teens were released on $7,000 bail, the other four on $5,000 bail. Their conditions of release include not contacting or being near the alleged victim, not going to St. Mike’s and only using social media with the “direct and constant supervision” of their sureties.

The contents of the locker room video: The 22-second video, which has been viewed by the Star, shows a teen boy being held down by a group of boys while he is allegedly sexually assaulted with what appears to be a broomstick.

The Star does not possess this video, which police have warned constitutes child pornography.

The contents of the washroom video: The 49-second video, also viewed by the Star, shows a teen boy in his underwear placed in a large sink by other boys who splash water on him and slap him. The boy in the sink appears not to be physically injured in the incident. He is not the same boy as the alleged victim in the locker room video.

The Star does not possess this video.

That both videos were circulating on social media before police became involved.

When St. Mike’s says it first learned of the incidents: According to a detailed timeline released by the school, administrators said they first received the washroom video on the morning of Nov. 12, and the locker room video later that evening.

Later, in a Sunday interview with the Star, school principal Greg Reeves said he learned of a third incident, also involving a locker room, from the mother of a student on Nov. 15. It is unclear if this incident is one of the six police are investigating.

It that same interview, Reeves said he had also received another video that day and forwarded it to police without viewing it. It is unclear whether police are investigating this video.

On Tuesday, the school said it on Sunday forwarded two digital files to police without viewing their contents. It is unclear whether police are investigating these files.

When St. Mike’s says it first contacted police about the incidents: According to the school’s timeline, St. Mike’s told police about the washroom video on Nov. 12, the day it was received, and the locker room video on Nov. 14, more than a day after it was received, “upon completion of its internal investigation.”

In his Sunday interview with the Star, Reeves said he turned the locker room video over to police around 11 a.m. on Nov. 14. According to police, media had by that point already contacted police about the video.

Why St. Mike’s says it took a day to contact police over the locker room video: According to its timeline, the school told police about the video after: “identifying, notifying and interviewing all students involved and their parents”; informing faculty and staff; notifying families involved “that police will be contacted”; expelling four students and completing its internal investigation.

“My whole decision-making process went around the protection of the victim,” Reeves told the Star in the Sunday interview. “What gives me some solace, because I know I’m receiving some critique about that, is the parents of the victim are very pleased with my timelines … They at least heard it from the school principal, as opposed to police.”

At a Monday news conference at the school, Reeves said he had not called police about the locker room video before police came to the school on Nov. 14 — but was always intending to call them.

Why and when police say they got involved: Sinopoli told reporters on Monday that Reeves called police on Nov. 12 — the day the school says it received both the washroom and locker room videos — “seeking advice about a hazing incident.” Sinopoli said Reeves was advised on how the student could engage police services and no further action was taken.

On Nov. 14, an officer went to St. Mike’s after the police communications team received information that there were “a number of expulsions” taking place at the school, Sinopoli told a separate Monday news conference.

Before the officer arrived, the police media team received “further information from the media indicating that the expulsions were in relation to a sexual assault involving an object,” Sinopoli said.

When asked by reporters whether the school should have immediately contacted police about the locker room video, Sinopoli replied, “yes.”

That the school has expelled at least eight students and suspended one: According to St. Mike’s timeline, which was released before the arrests, the school expelled four students and suspended one over the washroom video and expelled four students over the locker room video.

It is unclear if the school has since expelled or suspended any more students.

What St. Mike’s says it is doing to address the incidents: The school on Sunday announced it has launched a comprehensive independent review of student culture. The review will “examine the traditions, rituals, and social practices of students at every grade level and in all areas of school life,” and will issue recommendations that will be implemented in the 2019-2020 academic year, the school said in a news release.

The review will be led by a three-member independent committee of “prominent citizens” who don’t have any connection to the school, Reeves told reporters.

In its timeline, the school said it had taken several other steps to address the incidents, including: reaching out to support alleged victims; bringing in crisis counsellors for students, staff and faculty; holding assemblies for students; bringing in security to address threats to the school; meeting with parents and members of the junior football team; and holding information meetings with parents.

That police say they are not currently investigating similar incidents at any other schools.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

We don’t know how long the washroom and locker room videos were circulating on social media, nor how many people have seen them.

We don’t know much about the two videos police announced Tuesday: The Star has not seen them and does not know more than the brief descriptions provided by police that one involved an assault with a belt and the other “threatening.” We don’t know where and when they were filmed, or if the alleged victims are different from those in the washroom and locker room videos — though Sinopoli said police believe they are.

We don’t know how police got those two videos: St. Mike’s says it handed over two new videos on Sunday, but it’s unclear if those are the same ones being investigated by police.

We don’t know whether the boys who were charged in relation to the locker room video have all been expelled or suspended by the school: In its timeline, which was released before the boys were arrested, St. Mike’s said it had expelled four students over the locker room video. As six boys were arrested in relation to that video, it’s unclear if any of them were among the four students who were earlier expelled over the washroom video.

WHAT WE CAN’T REPORT

We can’t report the identities of the boys allegedly involved in the locker room video: The identities of the alleged victim and the six boys who were charged in relation to the video are all protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which prevents the Star from reporting any details about the boys or the incident that could identify them.

We can’t report several details about the locker room video that are covered by a publication ban: The Star is also bound to a publication ban that prohibits reporting any information introduced during the six boys’ bail hearing on Monday.

With files from Isabel Teotonio and Alyshah Hasham

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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Toronto police charge 6 students in St. Michael’s College School investigation

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Toronto police have charged six students in connection with the allegations of assault and sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School.

Deputy Chief James Ramer said five students turned themselves in on Monday, while another was arrested on his way to school. All six boys are facing multiple criminal charges and will be considered young offenders.

The Canadian Press reported the charges are in connection with the sexual assault investigation at the private, all-boys Catholic school. More details are expected at a police press conference scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET, where Ramer and Insp. Dominic Sinopoli, who heads the sex crimes unit, are speaking with reporters.

Police at the news conference also said the midtown Toronto school is currently dealing with a bomb threat.

CP spoke with police sources who confirmed that one incident involved a group of students on the football team pinning down another student in a locker room and allegedly sexually assaulting him with a broom handle.

The incident was allegedly captured on camera and shared among students.

Police were also looking into at least two more incidents. One, an alleged assault that took place in a school bathroom, was also captured on camera. School officials also announced police had been notified about a third incident.

With files from The Canadian Press

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First World War soldiers and nurses are a ghostly presence in Trinity College windows

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The men and women in the windows at Trinity College have a ghostly presence, rendered in the black and silvery white of a glass-plate negative, like an X-ray.

They were students of another time and place, united by death and service in the First World War. Their Trinity College was located in what is now Trinity Bellwoods park, and had federated with the University of Toronto in 1904. Students didn’t move into the current location until 1925.

Adhesive reproductions of old photo negatives are attached to the windows overlooking a courtyard at U of T’s Trinity College. The college’s archives hold 210 glass-plate negatives of portraits from The War Memorial Volume of Trinity College, about 543 students and alumni who had served in the First World War. This picture shows William George Henry Bates.
Adhesive reproductions of old photo negatives are attached to the windows overlooking a courtyard at U of T’s Trinity College. The college’s archives hold 210 glass-plate negatives of portraits from The War Memorial Volume of Trinity College, about 543 students and alumni who had served in the First World War. This picture shows William George Henry Bates.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

In 1922, two Trinity professors wrote a book about the 543 students and alumni who had served in the conflict. They wrote to the survivors, and families of the dead, asking for photos. The War Memorial Volume of Trinity College was a “labour of love,” Trinity archivist Sylvia Lassam says.

The professors made copies of each photo and kept the glass-plate negatives. About a year ago, Lassam came across the photos in boxes marked “heavy.”

To honour the centenary of the Armistice, Lassam had 27 of the photos — each one slightly bigger than a smartphone — developed, keeping the negative exposure. They were printed on clear backing, and Lassam and Sarah Kidd, the communications co-ordinator at the college, stuck them on the paned-glass windows that look to the quad. The details of their faces only sharpen when you look at them a certain way.

“He looks so young,” Lassam says as she gazes at Henry Thomson, killed at Passchendaele at 23. “Like a kid brother.”

Jeffrey Filder Smith enlisted at age 31, seeking to become an officer.
Jeffrey Filder Smith enlisted at age 31, seeking to become an officer.  (Richard Lautens)

Jeffrey Filder Smith grew up in Rosedale. He went to Upper Canada College and later studied in the Faculty of Arts, 1903-05. While the Globe said he worked at a rubber manufacturer’s head office before the war, he listed his occupation as “gentleman” when he signed up in 1916. He was 31, and took an officer’s course in England before he arrived in France.

He was hurt at Vimy Ridge but Lt. Smith was back in action 10 days later. He went missing at the end of June 1917. His battalion, the 13th, Royal Highlanders of Canada, had dug a fake trench and set up “dummy” soldiers which they controlled with string. At the appointed hour, the battalion history notes, they began moving the fake soldiers to trick the Germans into thinking an attack was imminent. The Germans shelled the area — but the battalion noticed the Germans were shelling their own line, too. The Canadians sent out a patrol that night to see if the Germans had abandoned the area. Lt. Smith and eight other men went over the top, through the barbed wire. It was a trap. The Germans threw a bomb at them and opened fire with a machine gun. Smith yelled at his men to retreat. He and another man stayed for covering fire.

They all made it back to the trench, but Smith and one other man did not. When another group came out closer to daybreak to find them, the other man was crawling back with a shattered leg. He said Smith had been hit by a bomb, but nobody could find him. According to the War Memorial Volume of Trinity College, he was taken prisoner and “died of wounds in German hands,” on June 29, 1917.

Leonora Gregory Allen had a rough passage over the Atlantic ? the passenger steamship she was on was torpedoed.
Leonora Gregory Allen had a rough passage over the Atlantic ? the passenger steamship she was on was torpedoed.  (Richard Lautens)

Leonora Gregory Allen studied at Trinity in 1906-07, and graduated from a nursing program in New York in 1910. She enlisted as a nursing sister in 1917. On the way to Europe, her passenger steamship turned military transport was torpedoed south of Ireland. The 29-year-old was picked up by a minesweeper, according to the Trinity war memorial book.

She made it to France in late 1917, but her hospital in St. Omer was bombed and shelled in the German spring advance of 1918, so she was moved to a new hospital at Étaples along France’s northern coast. “Everything bad that could happen to her happened to her,” Lassam says. Allen nursed at Allied hospitals in France and England after the Armistice and was back in Canada in the summer of 1919, where she became a supervisor and instructor at a hospital in Victoria. She married, and died in B.C. in 1957.

Reginald Prinsep Wilkins died during the Canadian advance in the last 100 days of the war.
Reginald Prinsep Wilkins died during the Canadian advance in the last 100 days of the war.  (Richard Lautens)

Reginald Prinsep Wilkins was a Trinity grad planning a law career. He couldn’t wait to get overseas, and signed up in 1915 with his good friend and Trinity alum Gordon Matheson. “Together they had hoped and waited for their chance to enter the battle and, officers of the same battalion, albeit in different companies, they almost fell together,” the college newspaper wrote.

As a student, Wilkins was in the glee club and never missed a Sunday morning choir appearance. He was editor-in-chief of the Trinity College Review. In France, he was a lieutenant with the 44th Batallion. His friend Matheson died in August 1918. In late September, Wilkins wrote to his father. The Canadians were advancing quickly through France, and were about to cross the Canal du Nord. “I feel that everything will turn out O.K., if the Almighty wills it,” he wrote.

According to the battalion war diary, early on Sept. 27, the men crossed the canal. Those leading the charge were pressed forward because of the eagerness of the entire crew, and many, including Wilkins, were killed or wounded as the Germans opened fire. The war diary notes the 26-year-old showed “magnificent leadership and self-sacrifice.” He was “believed to be buried” at the nearby Quarry Wood cemetery.

Richard Arthur Mitchell got in trouble for disobeying an order.
Richard Arthur Mitchell got in trouble for disobeying an order.  (Richard Lautens)

Richard Arthur Mitchell was studying in the Faculty of Arts, planning a future in ministry, when he enlisted in November 1914. The 20-year-old served with Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was plagued by rheumatism, stomach trouble and influenza, according to his service record.

In 1915 he wrote his will in an army recreation hut in England. He left his “regular army knife” to a friend in Toronto, $700 to his mother, and $300 to his uncle. According to his record, he was given three days’ field punishment for neglecting to obey a lawful command before Christmas 1915. That form of discipline often meant a soldier was tied to a fixed object for two hours a day in a crucifixion pose.

In 1916, Mitchell served with a machine-gun brigade on “water detail.” The military record keepers lost track of him that November, and when inquiries were made, the answer was a grim one. He had been killed in the Somme that September. According to the University of Toronto Honour Roll, Mitchell had gone to help two men who had been wounded in Courcelette, only to find they were already dead. As he hurried back to the trenches, a sniper shot him in. He is believed to be buried in nearby Adanac Military cemetery. The cemetery’s name is a reverse of Canada — it was created after the Armistice, when nearby Canadian graves were centralized in one location.

Adhesive reproductions of old photo negatives are attached to the windows overlooking a courtyard at U of T's Trinity College. The college's archives hold 210 glass-plate negatives of portraits from The War Memorial Volume of Trinity College, about 543 students and alumni who had served in the First World War.
Adhesive reproductions of old photo negatives are attached to the windows overlooking a courtyard at U of T’s Trinity College. The college’s archives hold 210 glass-plate negatives of portraits from The War Memorial Volume of Trinity College, about 543 students and alumni who had served in the First World War.  (Richard Lautens)

Katie Daubs is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs

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Aide médicale à mourir: des formulaires inquiètent le Collège des médecins

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Le Collège des médecins du Québec demande à ses membres de ne pas remplir le formulaire d’aide médicale à mourir qui sera exigé par le fédéral dès jeudi. Les informations requises dévoileraient l’identité des patients, en plus d’alourdir le fardeau administratif de médecins qui risqueraient fort de ne plus l’offrir, estime-t-il.

« Cela pourrait se traduire, pour les patients, par un accès plus difficile à ce soin de fin de vie », plaide le Collège.

Les renseignements demandés incluent le numéro d’assurance-maladie du patient et son code postal. Des données sont aussi recueillies sur les médecins qui prodiguent l’aide médicale à mourir, ont fait savoir des représentants du Collège en point de presse à Montréal mercredi matin.

Les médecins partout au Canada devront remplir ce formulaire dès jeudi, alors qu’entre en vigueur le règlement fédéral sur la surveillance de l’aide médicale à mourir.

Or, le fédéral n’a pas du tout tenu compte qu’au Québec, l’aide médicale à mourir est déjà prodiguée depuis près de trois ans, et que la loi provinciale oblige déjà les médecins à remplir un formulaire. Le Collège juge ce dernier supérieur à celui du fédéral : il n’y a pas de renseignements permettant d’identifier les patients et il permet de surveiller la conformité de l’acte à la loi ainsi que d’évaluer la qualité des soins offerts.

La pénalité pour les médecins qui ne remplissent pas le formulaire fédéral ? Jusqu’à deux ans de prison, a indiqué Mauril Gaudreault, le président du Collège des médecins. « C’est abusif et inutilement contraignant », estime-t-il.

Surtout qu’au Québec, cela marche très bien depuis presque trois ans, sans pénalité pour les médecins, a-t-il fait remarquer.

Peu de gens réalisent l’énorme fardeau professionnel et émotionnel que cela comporte pour les médecins d’offrir l’aide à mourir : « ils n’ont pas besoin d’un fardeau administratif de plus », a commenté le Dr Alain Naud. « Il risque d’y avoir beaucoup de médecins qui se désengagent et d’autres qui ne voudront pas s’engager ».

Le Collège avait toutefois une bonne nouvelle à rapporter : il a obtenu confirmation que les pourparlers en cours à ce sujet entre le ministère de la Santé du Québec et Santé Canada arrivent bientôt à échéance. Ces discussions visent à ajuster le formulaire à la réalité québécoise. De plus, le gouvernement du Québec a désigné une personne pour recueillir les informations requises et ne devra les remettre à Ottawa qu’à tous les trois mois, ce qui donne un délai pour les négociations. Des fonctionnaires du ministère québécois de la Santé ont aussi reçu le mandat de développer un formulaire en ligne unique.

Québec devra-t-il remettre à Ottawa les données permettant d’identifier les patients ? Cet aspect n’est pas encore réglé, admet le Dr Yves Robert, directeur général du Collège.

Conflits de lois

De façon plus globale, la question du formulaire met en lumière certains conflits entre la loi provinciale sur l’aide médicale à mourir, adoptée en 2014, et celle du gouvernement fédéral, adoptée plus récemment en 2016.

L’un des problèmes émane du fait que les critères d’admissibilité à cette aide ne sont pas les mêmes en vertu des deux lois, ce qui met beaucoup de pression sur les épaules des médecins, juge le Dr Alain Naud, membre du Conseil d’administration du Collège, et impliqué dans le dossier de l’aide médicale à mourir.

On fait porter aux médecins le fardeau d’interprétation des différences entre les deux lois, déplore-t-il.

Il constate que devant les obstacles, des patients se sentent abandonnés, se suicident, ou, pour ceux qui en ont les moyens, continuent de se rendre en Suisse pour obtenir l’aide médicale à mourir.

Le Dr Naud est d’avis que Québec doit revoir sa loi, pour l’ajuster avec tous les changements qui se sont produits depuis. Et selon lui, le fédéral devrait demander l’avis de la Cour suprême sur sa loi, afin de s’assurer de sa validité.

Le Collège ignore combien de médecins prodiguent l’aide médicale à mourir au Québec car il n’y a pas de registre.

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