Last year, during a series of sexual misconduct allegations from within the Creative Writing department at Concordia, two students filed complaints against a professor, alleging that they were harassed in the 1990s. According to CBC News, this professor is still employed at the university and was exonerated by Concordia of all allegations in September 2018. According to the same source, one of the complainants, Ibi Kaslik, only learned of this through a reporter at CBC at the beginning of this month.
Over the past year, Kaslik tried to remain updated about the complaint and was told by Concordia Associate Vice-President for Human Resources, Carolina Willsher, last month that “the investigator collected the information, presented it to the university, and the university reacted […] That’s all I can tell you,” according to CBC News. The university has been citing privacy concerns as the reason behind their lack of transparency. The Concordian has learned that by not informing the complainants of the results of the investigation, Concordia is following privacy laws, specifically the A-2.1 Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information.
Essentially, in this type of case, no personal information can be shared by an educational institution––even to the person who filed the complaint in the first place. However, the institution is allowed to tell the complainants that the investigation ended. Concordia hasn’t confirmed if they did or did not inform Kaslik and the other complainant of the investigation’s closure. But considering that the complainants only learned of the professor’s exoneration through CBC News, it’s clear to us that the university didn’t inform them of this decision when it happened in September.
While we do acknowledge that Concordia is acting in accordance to privacy laws, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the university’s administration wasn’t as transparent as it could have been, especially in its communication with the complainants. These laws are not survivor-centric, as they restrict those who complain from taking part in the discussions and decisions that will ultimately affect their lives. These complainants should have a right to know what happens to those they complain about––and Concordia shouldn’t sit idly by and claim it’s just following protocol. We believe they should step forward and do something to change this situation. Not only will it show that they’re on the side of the victims, but it will also allow those who want to speak out feel supported.
Just because you’re following a law doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing. Even though Concordia has enlisted a Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence, created guidelines that discourage sexual relationships between educators and students, and conducted a climate review of the English department, its actions are half-hearted, and the administration’s words hold no value. We need to see concrete change taking place at Concordia. We need to see the university respect and uplift victims’ voices. We need to see this institution protect its students, rather than its abusive educators. Stringing together a few words that excuse Concordia’s actions in PR statements isn’t good enough.
We at The Concordian would also like to note that this is a similar tactic used in 1969, when six black students at Sir George Williams University accused professor Perry Anderson of racism. The university didn’t communicate to the students about how their complaint was being handled, and Concordia exonerated the professor after concluding that nothing could support the racism claims, according to Toronto Star. He later continued his academic career. Rodney John, one of the six students, told Toronto Star that Concordia’s failure to address such bias was at the base of the incident: “It was mishandled from beginning to end.”
Mishandled. A key word here. We at The Concordian hope that the fight against sexual assault, harassment, and injustice at Concordia doesn’t end with the recent exoneration of the professor. Concordia shouldn’t be patting itself on the back. Yes, you followed the law and were not required to divulge the details of what happened to the complainant. But you could have informed them of the end of the investigation, at the very least. As a powerful institution, you aren’t doing enough. We demand more.
Graphic by Ana Bilokin