Administrative & Government, Family

Events at private school 'an alarm bell' for teachers: Benmor

By Staff

Faculty at a Toronto private school abdicated their responsibility to students and parents by not immediately reporting suspected sexual abuse, Toronto family lawyer, mediator and parenting co-ordinator Steven Benmor, tells the Toronto Sun.

Also see the Toronto Star.

Benmor, principal of Benmor Family Law Group, tells the Sun that all teachers in the province should be keeping a close watch as events unfold at the Roman Catholic school, where there have been at least six alleged incidents of assault and sexual assault involving its students.

“What’s going on at (the school) is an alarm bell for all educators,” Benmor, a Law Society of Ontario certified specialist in family law, tells the newspaper. “The police and the government have to hold educators accountable. If there is even any suspicion of this sort of event, you have to report it.”

Police started investigating after being alerted to some of the alleged incidents that were captured on video and posted to social media.

Six students from the school have been arrested and charged with sexual assault with a weapon, assault, and gang sexual assault.

The school's administration was made aware of a video allegedly showing an assault but did not report it to the authorities until 48 hours later, when police arrived at the school to investigate, The Canadian Press reports. The news agency adds that police have since said the school should have reported the incident immediately.

The school's president and principal have since resigned.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Benmor explains that the language in the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) is "very deliberate" and that it is the school's obligation to report any suspected abuse "forthwith." Once reported immediately, he adds, Children's Aid makes the decision on whether to investigate and bring in the police.

“How could this piece of legislation not be tattooed in the brain of every teacher there?” he tells the Star.

The failure to report the alleged assaults has raised questions, Benmor tells the Sun, citing s. 72 of the CFSA, which states teachers have an obligation to report any incident (or even a suspicion) of harm — physical or emotional — involving students.

Parents have a right to expect their children's' safety is being ensured, he adds in the Sun story.

“Just as every driver has to know the rules of the road, these are things taught to teachers. They have to know of their obligation to report,” Benmor tells the newspaper.

“And it has to be unacceptable that they did not report. If we say it’s acceptable in this case, what message are we sending to every school in Ontario? For even just politically correct reasons, it has to be said out loud to be a violation of the law.

"We have to hold people in authority accountable. If not, we’re inviting future vulnerable people to be hurt.”

Benmor tells the Sun that delays in reporting suspected incidents heighten the potential for evidence to be tampered with or lost.

“There may be both civil and criminal liability here. If it comes out that authorities at the school knew, or ought to have known, that kids were being physically or emotionally harmed, that failure to report is a breach of the Child and Family Services Act, and there may be criminal liability.”

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