Updated: Concordia Student Takes Sexual Violence Case to CRARR After University Delays Hearings

A student under the pseudonym Cathy is seeking assistance for how her sexual violence case is being handled by Concordia University. File photo Jonathan Caragay-Cook

Update: Since this story was published, the student has withdrawn her case and participation with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.

A human rights research group is working with a Concordia student who is a survivor of sexual violence to investigate issues of civil rights abuses in the university.

Cathy, a pseudonym for the student, came forward in spring 2015 after reporting on-campus confrontations with her ex-boyfriend, also a student, to Concordia. She has postponed her studies at Concordia until her case is resolved.

Despite following a formal complaints process through the university, hearings have been continually delayed by the university’s tribunal office, even after the student pled guilty to assaulting Cathy and breaking a restraining order.

The Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) will determine whether Cathy faced systemic barriers by the university which violate the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedom. The organization is studying cases in British Columbia and Ontario, according to Fo Niemi, the Centre’s executive director.

“We have to look at whether she was given adequate support, assistance and protection through either counselling or security services,” Niemi said. “And particularly with the problem of student tribunals, [we have to consider] whether her rights have been fairly taken into consideration, in addition to the rights of the respondent student.”

CRARR is also working with Mei-Ling, a former executive of the association representing Concordia’s Arts and Science students. She couldn’t receive university assistance when she brought forward complaints of sexual and racial harassment against her colleagues.

“We want to know if there are similarities in the way Cathy’s case has been dealt with by the university,” Niemi said. “These are two very concrete cases.”

In Cathy’s case, Concordia tribunals were postponed in spring 2015 because of probationary orders against the respondent. There were delays in the summer because the respondent was away, with a date set for the fall that could work around the restraining order.

The tribunal was then postponed again in the fall because of an ongoing municipal court case. After the respondent pled guilty in court at the end of September, Cathy awaited a new tribunal date, but was told once more in November that there couldn’t be hearing because of probationary orders.

In November, Concordia’s spokesperson Chris Mota told The Link any student can request that a hearing be postponed, which is considered impartially by the chair of the hearing panel—an external lawyer.

“In this particular case, given the wording of a court order, the external lawyer determined that that the hearing cannot take place as long as the court order is in effect,” Mota wrote in an email. She said the university couldn’t comment further.

“There are numerous resources at the university that can provide support for students,” she wrote in response to a question about how the university is looking out Cathy’s best interests. “If someone is no longer a student, there are resources available in the community at large that can provide support.”

“If these women still feel that they were not adequately supported or assisted, then we have to know where and why and how to prevent it,” Niemi said.

“If these women still feel that they were not adequately supported or assisted, then we have to know where and why and how to prevent it.” — Fo Niemi, CRARR’s executive director

CRARR will look into the need for coordination between the criminal justice system and university disciplinary bodies to ensure students who are survivors of sexual assault or harassment don’t fall through the cracks and don’t feel like they can’t come forward, Niemi said.

He hopes to eliminate a phenomenon in which victims being told to “scream quietly or the neighbours will hear.”

Concordia released a working document which suggested reviewing systems in place that deal with sexual assault and sexual harassment. CRARR was critical of the working document for falling short of recognizing how responses to sexual violence should consider the civil rights of survivors.

“Whatever the university has done, or wants to do, we have to look at the perspective of the survivor of sexual assault,” Niemi said. “If we don’t look at the perspective of the victim or the survivor, we’re likely missing the boat. Personally, I think this could be a further systemic barrier of sexism that could put women at a disadvantage.”

Niemi said the organization will also look into how equipped campus security, counselling and health services are to deal with situations of sexual violence. He hopes to carry the review by the end of January.

CRARR will be working with the Concordia Student Union’s Legal Information Clinic, the Student Advocacy Centre and the Centre for Gender Advocacy.

“We need to restore [Cathy’s] rights and her dignity, and restore whatever she’s lost because of this violence, including her year of having to drop out,” Niemi said. “But more importantly we need to give empowerment.”