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Collingwood school considers name change in light of sex-assault furor

Students at the Collingwood high school named after Jean Vanier will be permitted to dress down for the week instead of wearing a uniform while the board determines next steps
Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Collingwood. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

The Catholic community is reeling after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced over the weekend against Jean Vanier, and now the Collingwood high school that carries his name is considering wiping it from their walls.

According to a report released over the weekend by French-based charity L'Arche International, its late Canadian founder Jean Vanier had "manipulative sexual relationships" with women over several decades.

Vanier, who died last year at the age of 90, had relationships with at least six women between 1970 and 1995, some of whom said Vanier "used his power over them to take advantage of them through different kinds of sexual behaviours."

L'Arche International is a charity that helps people who are developmentally disabled. The report notes none of the women who have made allegations were disabled. The report also states all the women described their vulnerability, sometimes coming from difficult family backgrounds, looking for a father figure, or seeking spiritual guidance.

“Many of our students and staff are struggling with this shocking news and, in particular, our Catholic school in Collingwood which bears his name. That community finds itself in a troubling and difficult situation, by no fault of their own,” Brian Beal, director of education for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, said in a public statement.

“There are so many things we will now need to consider, not the least of which is the school’s name," he said. "In light of what we now know, we will work with the staff, students and parents in that community to determine the best path forward."

School board chair Joe Zerdin also made a public statement, referencing the importance of talking about these issues openly.

“What has come to light about Jean Vanier is deeply disturbing and our prayers go out to the victims and all those who have known and admired him,” said Zerdin. “It is so important that we speak out against sexual assault and sexual harassment.

"As difficult as this situation is for our staff, students, and the larger Catholic community, we are grateful to the women who were courageous enough to speak about their abuse and we are thankful that L’Arche chose to pursue this investigation," Zerdin added. 

According to board officials, they will undertake community consultations on a name change for Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Collingwood, which is in line with their board policies.

“Our approach will be to work with parents, students and staff to move forward,” said Pauline Stevenson, the school board's communications manager.

In the meantime, this week students have been given permission to wear their own clothes if wearing the uniform that bears the school’s name is too difficult.

“We knew that... some students would have some discomfort wearing his namesake in light of what he has been found to be involved with,” said Stevenson. “So, out of respect and compassion for students that were feeling that way, we put it out there that students... could dress down.

“We’ve said that for this week, until we can figure out how we want to move forward,” she added. “There’s a lot we have to consider. We’re trying to make sure we go about this in a thoughtful and co-ordinated way.”

- with files from Canadian Press


Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings nine years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering county matters, court, Collingwood and Barrie matters
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