The times are changing—and we don’t just mean the literal time change of Sunday’s daylight savings.
Even a quick glance at the news these days shows that more and more celebrities are speaking up about their experiences with sexual assault. The Harvey Weinstein exposé seemingly opened a floodgate, with people now coming forward with allegations against Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Brett Ratner and Ben Affleck, to name a few.
The bravery exhibited by each celebrity who has shared their story is exemplary. Yet we at The Concordian believe more needs to be done to encourage regular people to speak up about their own experiences—be it with sexual assault, racism or any other form of oppression or disrespect that has been swept under the rug.
Following allegations of sexual assault and harassment made against several high-profile Quebecers, Montreal police announced on Twitter on Oct. 19 the creation of a temporary hotline for reporting sexual assault or harassment. Within a week, the police department had received 320 calls, 69 of which resulted in a sexual assault file being opened, according to a press release. This is more than twice the number of sexual assault reports made on average in one week in 2016, according to the Montreal police 2016 annual report.
The creation of this hotline demonstrates the kind of response that can come from making supportive services available in the community. We at The Concordian hope to see more initiatives that encourage people to speak up against intolerable behaviour—particularly here at Concordia.
In September, the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) announced that a Concordia student was considering filing a civil rights complaint against the university “for discrimination and failure to protect and support.” This student reported being sexually harassed online by a peer and claimed the university “offered her very little support.” When asked about this case, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr responded that, “when a student brings to our attention a concern for their safety, with or without a police report, we look carefully at how we can support that student.”
Even more recently, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse recommended Concordia and the Montreal division of the Commissionaires security firm pay $33,000 in damages to a woman named Chantal Lapointe. In 2013, Lapointe was stopped by Concordia security guards at the downtown campus. According to Lapointe, the guards asked her for identification, attempted to take her picture without consent, and called the police when she refused to comply.
The Commission’s report stated that Lapointe’s race and social condition—she was mistaken for a homeless person—played a “decisive role” in the security guards’ decision to intercept her. In addition to the damages, the Commission recommended that the university provide security guards with “anti-discrimination training” and remove elements from its policies “that target and stigmatize homeless people.”
Concordia had until Oct. 27, 2017 to comply with the recommendations. Instead, the university responded that it “will be challenging the Human Rights Commission’s proposal” because Concordia “vehemently disagrees with the findings in [the] reports, which does not include all of the relevant facts,” according to Barr.
We at The Concordian are disappointed that the university has more of a tendency to save face than acknowledge its potential shortcomings and implement suggested solutions. While it may be understandable that the university is trying to avoid paying $33,000, why is there any hesitation to improve policies and employee training? Why, when a student claims to feel unsupported by the university’s sexual assault resource services, does Concordia immediately respond with claims that the status quo is adequate?
The times are changing and Concordia is at a crossroads. Our society is finally becoming a place where people feel supported enough to publicly denounce inappropriate behaviour. Members of the Concordia community need to know that when they make their voices heard, their university will be ready to listen and act.
If you would like to share your experience with oppression, assault, discrimination or harassment, we at The Concordian encourage you to email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We are more than willing to listen and share your story.
Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth