August 4, 2020

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Privacy breached, privacy protected

St. Paul's High School, city police withhold details on investigation, 'disciplinary action' for distribution of teen girls' private images

There was a digital folder with her name on it.

It was among many online files named after young women from Winnipeg, each one containing private photos never meant to be shared widely — forget being made public via Dropbox file-hosting service.

Five years later, the now-21-year-old said she has come to terms with how serious the incident was: it not only violated both her privacy and the privacy of other underage women she knew, it was also illegal.

The memory was jolted in recent weeks, as Winnipeg women took to social media en masse to share personal accounts of alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The names of dozens of young men have been posted, alongside allegations that have not been proven in court. A now-deactivated Twitter account, @StPaulsAbusers, was also set up to specifically post accusations against men who attended the all-boys Catholic high school in Winnipeg's Tuxedo neighbourhood.

A former J.H. Bruns Collegiate student was 16 when she learned that topless photos of her, that she had sent to her boyfriend two years earlier, were posted online.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A former J.H. Bruns Collegiate student was 16 when she learned that topless photos of her, that she had sent to her boyfriend two years earlier, were posted online.

Among the accused are the names of former St. Paul’s High School students alleged to have orchestrated the collection of intimate photos on a file-hosting service during the 2015-16 school year.

The young woman, whom the Winnipeg Free Press has chosen not to name, joined the online discussion.

When she was in Grade 11, she was called down to the office at J.H. Bruns Collegiate. She was surprised to see her mother, who lived outside the city, in the office, and even more so to learn about a mysterious Dropbox account.

She was then shown a folder with her name on it and asked to open it, which she did, to confirm what it was suspected to contain.

“None of us felt like anybody really cared or listened to us.” — Former J.H. Bruns Collegiate student

"It was very shocking. I was concerned, of course, but I don’t think that I cared as much as I should have at the time… None of us knew what we were doing, and then we all thought that it just was normal, like, ‘Oh, my nudes are leaked; OK, that’s normal because it kind of happens to everybody,’" she said in an interview this week.

"But I don’t really think that should happen."

She was 16 when she learned about — and searched through — the roughly 20 online folders. The photos inside hers were topless selfies she had sent only to her boyfriend two years earlier, when she was 14.

She said teenagers from various high schools across the city had folders named after them, filled with intimate selfies; as well, there was a camera roll folder that contained screenshots of everyday photos women had posted to their social media accounts.

St. Paul’s president Kevin Booth declined several interview requests.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

St. Paul’s president Kevin Booth declined several interview requests.

A senior administrator at J. H. Bruns in 2015-16 confirmed administration was made aware of the Dropbox account, and immediately informed parents and police of its existence.

The woman who spoke to the Free Press chose not to pursue charges, but she said others did — although, ultimately, the accused faced few consequences.

"None of us felt like anybody really cared or listened to us," the woman said. She never heard of a suspension or expulsion happening, she added, noting all those involved were in the same social circles.

The then-minor alleged to have started the Dropbox account later graduated from the prestigious Catholic high school. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment in time for publication.

St. Paul’s president Kevin Booth declined several interview requests.

“Regarding the Dropbox account, we cannot disclose any information due to privacy legislation and the protection of all youth involved.” — St. Paul’s president Kevin Booth email to the Free Press

"Regarding the ‘Dropbox’ account, we cannot disclose any information due to privacy legislation and the protection of all youth involved," Booth wrote in one email to the Free Press.

In another email, he said "disciplinary action" was taken at the school to address the incident, and the private school co-operated fully with the Winnipeg Police Service investigation into the matter. He did not expand on the consequences any St. Paul’s student may have faced.

Robert Praznik, superintendent of Manitoba Catholic Schools, directed an interview request to St. Paul’s, noting each Catholic school in Manitoba is independent and has its own board of directors.

City police declined to confirm an investigation ever took place, citing privacy concerns under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

During the 2019-20 fiscal year, Canadian Centre for Child Protection-run Cybertip.ca received 630 reports related to the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. A total of 44 were Manitoba-specific.

One member of the St. Paul's Class of 2016 said he never received any lessons on consent or sexual education at the private high school.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

One member of the St. Paul's Class of 2016 said he never received any lessons on consent or sexual education at the private high school.

The co-ordinator at the Sexual Violence Resource Centre at the University of Manitoba said she is "tired" of hearing stories such as this one.

"Education is key to creating social change and key to creating cultures that are based on consent and respect," said Bre Woligroski, adding high schools and post-secondary institutions are in a unique position to be able to provide education on sexual health and sexual violence prevention — including lessons on everything from physical bodies to the legalities of consent.

"It’s not consent to share people's images without their permission, that’s an act of sexual violence, and it is not that person’s fault; it’s not the person who’s in the image, it’s not their fault," said Hema Krueger Vyas, a co-director at Red Tent Winnipeg, a volunteer-run organization aimed at raising awareness about anti-oppression, safe spaces and consent culture

Krueger Vyas, a long-time sexual health educator, said it’s critical consent is discussed in both physical and virtual spheres.

“It’s not consent to share people's images without their permission, that’s an act of sexual violence, and it is not that person’s fault; it’s not the person who’s in the image, it’s not their fault.” — Hema Krueger Vyas, co-director at Red Tent Winnipeg

One member of the St. Paul's Class of 2016 said he never received any lessons on consent or sexual education at the private high school.

"That is something that has to be talked about when you’re entering your teenage years," said William Caldwell, reflecting on the online activity in recent weeks.

Caldwell said he had never heard about such a Dropbox account in his graduating year, but he wasn’t friendly with those allegedly involved. He did, however, have friends on the sports team the accused was involved with, and he knew well about the prevalence of "locker room talk."

After witnessing social media posts naming former students surface, Caldwell started a Change.org petition to demand "answers and cultural changes from St. Paul’s" about the sexual-assault allegations that have been made.

So far, it has collected more than 270 signatures.

"The foundation of St. Paul's High School and its community at large is ‘Creating Men for Others,’ but we must ask ourselves and the leadership of this institution what type of men are we creating and allowing to flourish in the world at large if we continue to support the systemic cover-up of these assaults," states the petition.

On the subject of the school’s culture, St. Paul’s president said the 94-year-old institution firmly believes all people have the right to be safe and to be treated with dignity and respect, and it educates students to be "law-abiding citizens who are accountable for their actions."

"We know that we have a special duty to educate young men," Booth wrote in an email.

"We take this duty seriously. We expect our students to walk with those who have had their dignity violated, to listen to their concerns, to hear their accounts, and to pursue truth and work for justice in solidarity."

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, July 3, 2020 at 7:30 PM CDT: Fixes typo

7:54 PM: Fixes various typos

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