The lawsuit was filed for failing to address sexual harassment complaints.
On behalf of Concordia student Harris Turpin, the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) has filed a complaint against the Arts and Science Federation of Association (ASFA) for failing to effectively address his complaint of sexual harassment against the federation’s former president. It is claiming major moral and punitive damages against ASFA.
“We believe this to be the first same-sex campus sexual harassment case in the province,” said Fo Niemi, the CRARR executive director.
“I want to set a precedent here. Last time with the Mei Ling incident, they said ‘there’s not going to be a next time.’ I am the next time,” said Turpin.
In 2015, CRARR filed a complaint against ASFA and two of its executives on behalf of Mei Ling (a pseudonym), a biracial executive who was subjected to racial and sexual discrimination. The case was settled on the condition that the federation create a task force to address these issues.
In 2016, Turpin went on a date with former ASFA president Jonathan Roy, but nothing came out of it. Starting in 2017, Turpin claims he was physically and verbally harassed by the president on a regular basis.
“This included uncomfortable and unnecessary touching towards me and unsolicited sexual messages,” said Turpin. “I also received a number of rude nicknames from fellow members of my student association [Concordia’s Classics Students Association (CCSA)],” which according to Turpin, included “bitch-boy” and “butt-boy.” These instances happened on campus and at university events. At a CCSA event on Jan. 25, Turpin said Roy flicked his nipple and yelled at him.
In February, Turpin informed ASFA’s then-internal affairs and administration executive, among other executives, of his harassment. He was discouraged from going through the proper channels set out by ASFA’s sexual harassment policy.
Although a mediation session was held with Turpin, Roy, ASFA executives and a CCSA representative, the agreed-upon consensus was not abided by. Within that week, ASFA’s council put its sexual harassment policy under review, and mandated its task force to make it survival-centric in light of the sexual harassment allegations in the english department. However, according to Bakry Alsaieq, ASFA’s academic coordinator, the councillors didn’t know a complaint had been brought to the executives when they suspended the policy.
In April, Turpin shared his story with The Link and publicized it on a Tumblr page. “I decided to go public to gain the justice I deserve,” said Turpin. Additionally, Roy stepped down as president.
A week later, Turpin received a letter from ASFA’s lawyer demanding he take down the Tumblr page on the basis of defamation of Roy. According to ASFA’s current Advocacy and Executive Coordinator, Marguerite Rolland, the letter was commissioned by Roy.
ASFA has sinced changed its procedures regarding the commissioning of work to lawyers, said Rolland. Now both executives allowed to commission work to the federation’s lawyers must agree on the commission. “We are doing this to ensure that any action that is taken on behalf of ASFA represents the entirety of the organization,” said Rolland. Today, both the president and the general manager of ASFA must agree to send the work. At the time the letter was sent, Roy’s approval was enough to commission it. According to Rolland, there was a very short time frame for executive oversight between the time the letter was commissioned and then sent.
A statement was later released by ASFA apologizing for sending the cease and desist letter.
“It was a general apology issued to the public that shows a general lack of empathy not to be mentioned by name. […] I made a huge case of this and they didn’t even take the time to apologize to me,” said Turpin.
“It’s not about the president anymore, it’s about ASFA,” said Turpin. This is the second time in the last three years a complaint has been filed against the federation to the Quebec Commission of Human Rights and Youth Rights.
“What should’ve been done was to inform the individual of all the processes that were available outside of ASFA —referring him to the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, the Centre for Gender Advocacy [for example],” said Rolland.
“It certainly took a toll on my health,” said Turpin. “Last time I visited [Niemi], I was not looking so good, eating poorly, awful diet, horrible sleep schedule. Because of this incident, not only my grades suffered but my person suffered.”
Photo by Mia Anhoury.