Concordia Says Recent Sexual Harassment Complaint Wasn’t Mishandled

Quebec Privacy Laws Require Complainants Stay in the Dark

  • Last January Concordia President Alan Shepard had to call an emergency press conference to discuss allegations of sexual misconduct that emerged from Concordia’s creative writing program. Since then, students continue to complain the school is mishandling complaints of sexual violence. File Photo Brian Lapuz.

After being denounced by Concordia’s English student association for “mishandling” a recent complaint of sexual harassment, two Concordia administrators stressed that it was Quebec privacy laws that forced them to not disclose the results of the investigation to the two former students who came forward.

“We would like to be able to say more, but we can’t, and that’s a very frustrating position for us to be in, because we take these things very seriously and act appropriately,” explained Lisa Ostiguy, Concordia’s deputy provost and chair to their sexual misconduct task force.

This month the CBC revealed the university dropped a complaint of sexual harassment against a professor in the creative writing program without notifying those who originally filed the complaint.

According to the CBC, the investigation into the professor was closed in September 2018, though the two complainants weren’t notified until this February after the professor’s lawyer told the CBC the case had been closed.

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Concordia President Alan Shepard and Ostiguy couldn’t confirm whether the two complainants were notified the case had been closed prior to this month, since provincial legislation mandates they can’t speak publicly about any complaints through the school’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities. But the two stressed that it’s not their intention to hide information.

“It’s not that we’re evading, we’re following the law,” Shepard told The Link. “Privacy law and employment law makes it so you can’t discuss the results of any investigation with third parties, even with the complainants.”

“It puts us in a bind too, because how will you know we took this seriously? How can you know that if the facts are not demonstrated in public?” —Alan Shepard

“Complainants can talk about it, lawyers can talk about it, but we cannot.”

While the situation revealed by the CBC could have been interpreted by many as an outlier or mistake, a look into Quebec’s privacy laws shows a lack of transparency is par for the course for any student making a complaint against a professor.

At Concordia, when an internal or third-party investigation shows a complaint against a professor or university employee is founded, they can be reprimanded through suspensions, dismissals, or warnings. But whether those steps have been taken cannot be communicated with whoever sent the complaint. The findings of the investigation also cannot be shared.

“It puts us in a bind too, because how will you know we took this seriously? How can you know that if the facts are not demonstrated in public?” Shepard said.

University Spokesperson Fiona Downey said the school has been in contact with Quebec’s ministry of higher education who confirmed they didn’t mishandle the complaint.

“Concordia is, in fact, complying with all relevant legislation on matters of privacy and confidentiality,” Downey wrote to The Link. “We have been assured that Concordia’s practices do comply.”

Concordia’s English student association is still demanding the school provides a public apology to all past and present English students for how this complaint was handled, writing in a statement that the school, “Continues to assist in alienating and endangering students [because] their complaint process lacks transparency and student representation.”

Ostiguy said they will be meeting with the association in the near future to discuss next steps.

“Often it’s a misunderstanding of what we can report that leads to mistrust,” she said.

“There’s also a misunderstanding of some of the processes that we have in place to support students that they’re unaware of, and so we’ve working to have open conversation where people can ask questions and get some answers.”

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