Concordia students and TAs protest against sexual violence injustice at Concordia

Concordia’s teaching assistants union and students gather to protest against a lack of transparency in sexual violence cases, aiming to spread awareness

“When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” That’s how protesters made their voices heard at the “Stand up Against Harassment” protest on March 8, International Women’s Day. The rally, held by the Norman Bethune statue, was intended to highlight the importance of acknowledging the lack of transparency in Concordia’s response to sexual violence and demand structural change.

The Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union organized the event, aiming to spread awareness and demand change regarding sexual violence victims who have been subject to Concordia’s treatment towards people suspected of committing sexual violence. Mya Walmsley, a TRAC delegate from Concordia’s Department of Philosophy, started her speech with a chant, enforcing the rally’s message for change, saying “We want change! When do we want it? Now!”

One of the reasons for the protest was philosophy students refusing to work with an unnamed professor in the department, who has an alleged history of sexual harassment. Until safer working conditions are set in place, the TAs and students refuse to work with him.

Late last year, the TRAC union created a petition, with 250 signatures, demanding from the university to be more transparent about cases of sexual assault and violence.

Concordia has been involved in six sexual allegation cases, from multiple departments, with one case dating back to the 90’s. In addition, from 2012 to 2018, six former Concordia students filed complaints to the Human Rights Commission about Concordia’s lack of response towards its students surrounding sexual violence cases.

“For a decade, the university has known about these allegations, and rather than working with survivors of sexual harassment, rather than working with students and staff to find a long-term solution, Concordia has swept these issues under the rug,” Walmsley explained.

The TRAC demands structural change to create a safer working environment, and an institutional response to sexual violence and harassment, emphasizing that sexual assault policies and gender violence must be survivor-centered, and it should never be a survivor’s responsibility to avoid the person who harassed or attacked them. Furthermore, the union demands Concordia protect survivors’ rights to tell their own stories, even if they have filed internal or external complaints. In addition, Students and TAs working and studying under the supervision of accused faculty members should be able to decide who they want to work with, or if the allegations have been dealt with satisfactorily.

Mathilde, one of the event organizers who wished to be referred to by they first name, made they stance on the topic clear.

“Today, we hold Concordia accountable for their action and responsibility towards all members of the Concordia community. We want everyone to be safe!”

Apart from the TRAC members and representatives, dozens of students and supporters joined the protest. Ra’anaa Brown, a doctoral student in the Art History Department joined the protest to show her support and draw awareness to unrecognized sexual violence at the university. “As a woman, as someone who has several sisters, as someone who knows non-binary and queer folks, this is an incredibly important cause for me,” Brown said. “Today is International Women’s Day, and it’s when women can come together across the globe, recognize our important contributions to society, but also fight for the basic human rights that we still do not have access to.”

Nelson Graves, both a master’s student and a TRAC delegate member in the philosophy department, has dedicated his time to fighting against prejudice in the Concordia administrative system. “It is a structural change. Yes, Concordia has the mandatory sexual violence course. However, someone that will perpetuate sexual violence is going to do it anyway, regardless if they have completed the course,” Graves explained. He believes that Concordia needs to enact more change, investigate how they work with survivors, and improve on transparency.

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney


The fight to end sexual violence at Concordia

Have Your Say survey aims to shed light on the way Concordia deals with sexual violence

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) are creating a report based on results from a survey that sought student input on the way Concordia handles cases of sexual violence on campus. The report will be published this week and presented to Concordia University’s administration and the Quebec minister of education.

Before filling out the survey, students were invited to a “Have Your Say” event held on March 16, where they were informed about the consultations the Quebec government is hosting to examine sexual violence at the province’s universities and CEGEP. The consultations hosted by Higher Education Minister Hélène David were held in Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau and Saguenay during the month of March.

Stacey Gomez, the action coordinator for the CGA, said the survey collected student feedback on how the Quebec government can respond to and prevent sexual violence on its university campuses.

“Our hope is to come up with a report that highlights student recommendations around how the campus can be a safer place, and how to better respond to sexual violence on campus,” Gomez said.

Lana Elinor Galbraith, the sustainability coordinator for the CSU and the person writing the report, said she hopes the report will encourage the university to create an actionable plan which will incorporate students’ suggestions.

In January, Galbraith attended a conference where student unions across Quebec were invited to discuss how different universities are handling matters of sexual assault. She was disappointed to learn that Concordia is one of the only universities that is relatively advanced. “We are the only ones that have a Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) that’s paid for by the university and run by the university.” SARC offers support to students, faculty and staff who have been impacted by sexual harassment or assault.

Among the feedback gathered from the survey, Gomez said improving the services offered by the SARC was an important recommendation. “One of the things that came out of the Have Your Say event … was the need to have more resources for SARC and more staff,” Gomez said.

“For a long time, there was only one staff person for the entire campus. Now there are two,” she said, adding there is also a team of volunteers at the SARC.

“As we know, sexual violence on campus is a major issue, and so that’s not enough resources to be able to support students,” Gomez said.

In addition, Gomez said mandatory consent training was suggested for students at the university, particularly for those living in residence or involved in frosh.

“Many students mentioned that they did not feel supported by staff at the university, profs and also security,” Gomez said. She said the survey mentioned it would be beneficial for these parties to receive training on how to support survivors and address sexual violence. This would ensure that those in positions of power on campus “can be more understanding, more empathetic and more accommodating to students who are experiencing difficulties as a result of having experienced sexual violence,” Gomez said.

Graphic by Florence Yee

Fo Niemi, the co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a small Montreal-based non-profit civil rights organization that has handled 15 cases involving students at Concordia, weighed in on how Concordia’s security often handles reports of sexual assault.

“One of the things that comes back often is that they complain security staff are usually trained to handle crowds, demonstrations, security concerns such as … or terrorism or emergencies, but not the aspect of what we call the human violence,” Niemi said.

According to Niemi, CRARR has been in contact with some women who have brought forth legal action against universities in Ontario and B.C. where they were assaulted or harassed.

“We’re not sure [if the way security handles complaints] has really been looked at in an objective manner or a more transparent manner, and I think that is the key thing,” Niemi said. “Some cases we’ve heard is that security, either they don’t know how to deal with it or sometimes they themselves may do something that could possibly put the victims or the survivors in a very uncomfortable position—even if they mean well,” Niemi said.

Jennifer Drummond, the coordinator of the SARC, said many individuals in positions of power at Concordia already receive training. “All different parts of the Concordia community receive training on [sexual assault awareness and bystander intervention], including the security department, upper administrators and the president’s executive group,” Drummond said. “Part of SARC’s education plan, as outlined in the Sexual Assault Working Group’s report recommendation, is to continue to expand the number of groups that receive these trainings—which will include faculty and staff in frontline positions.”

Drummond believes the university has taken the right strides in preventing and responding to sexual violence. “Implementing a sexual violence policy … and having a sexual assault centre with individuals able to accompany the survivor through both internal and external processes can encourage reporting and are evidence of an institution that takes this issue seriously,” Drummond said. “We see female, male and trans* survivors. There are some resources that we provide that are specific to male and trans survivors,” she added.

Drummond said these steps can encourage students to come forward about their experiences with sexual violence. However, many cases are dismissed, go undocumented and, therefore, don’t make it into larger databases about sexual assault.

“Research suggests that less than 10 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police,” said Drummond. In addition, she said it can be expected within schools for there to be low numbers of reports, as survivors in institutions face various barriers in disclosing and reporting a case of sexual assault.

According to a 2015-2016 report released by Concordia, 16 complaints of sexual assault were made to the university during that year, with only three of these complaints resulting in a hearing or investigation. During the 2014-2015 school year, 16 complaints were made to the Office of Rights and Responsibilities under the category of “sexual harassment.” During this time, there was not a stand-alone policy specifically for sexual assault at Concordia. Instead, data of harassment and assault were both categorized under sexual harassment.

In a 20-month investigation into authorities’ management of sexual assault cases, conducted by The Globe and Mail, it was discovered that one in five sexual assault allegations in Canada are viewed as groundless, resulting in them being dismissed and unfounded—meaning the allegations were not taken seriously, leading the accusation being dismissed rather than documented. Once a case is dismissed, it is no longer considered a legitimate allegation, according to the report.  In this investigation, it was revealed 19.39 per cent of cases in Canada are unfounded, almost twice as high as the rate for physical assault.

The Globe and Mail curated this information by filing 250 access to information requests with police services across the country and requested data from 1,100 jurisdictions. The investigation included responses from 873 jurisdictions, which accounts for 92 per cent of the Canadian population.

In Montreal, the same investigation revealed that, over a five year period, 1,256 out of 6,893 allegations—just over 18 per cent—were identified as unfounded.

Graphic by Pauline Soumet

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) launched a Sexual Assault Awareness Week on March 27. The week aims to raise awareness of sexual assault not only at McGill, but in the broader Montreal community, by hosting events and workshops between March 27 and 31.

While neither Concordia nor SARC host a sexual assault awareness week, university spokesperson Chris Mota said, “We see every day as an opportunity to raise awareness.” Mota added that SARC has upcoming events, including an open house on Wednesday, March 29. The SARC will also be holding an event on Thursday, April 13 to summarize the consultations held in Montreal by the Quebec government in March.

“Concordia was the first university in Canada to create the position of Sexual Harassment Advisor in 1987, and one of the first to adopt a policy on sexual harassment in the early 1990s,” Mota said.

“In 2013, Concordia launched the Sexual Assault Resource Centre to inform the campus community about consent, prevention and survivor support,” Mota said. “We felt it was an important step in supporting our community by providing services that specifically deal with sexual assault, given the issue of sexual assaults on campuses across Canada.”

Niemi said he has noticed some sexual violence cases at the university level may be prolonged or have unnecessary delays—there is the issue of the level of adequate support that is really given to the women. Niemi said he has not seen a difference in the way cases of sexual assault or harassment have been dealt with by the university since SARC has been implemented.

“For a student [body] of so many thousands of students with so much diversity [to] have only one person, Jennifer Drummond … She can be a superwoman, but she can’t address all of these things,” Niemi said. “They need at least three to four people in that office in addition to our support staff in order to work.”

SARC recently hired a service assistant and relocated for greater accessibility on campus. Fifteen people currently make up the SARC’s volunteer team.

When asked about expansion in terms of the team and the centre’s presence on campus, Drummond said, “SARC is still a very new service at Concordia and I expect, as time goes on, we will continue to expand our team and presence on campus.”


Increasing sexual assault awareness on campus

One in three women will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime, according to Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC). This issue will impact virtually all women in this country, and we must act now in order to safeguard our society.

McGill University is hosting a Sexual Assault Awareness Week from March 27 to 31, and we at The Concordian applaud them for doing so. We wish Concordia would follow suit.

According to Concordia University’s spokesperson Chris Mota, every day is a day to recognize the impacts of sexual assault, but as of now, Concordia doesn’t have a specific week dedicated to it. We believe the university should dedicate an entire week to this issue. Of course, in an ideal world, sexual assault would always be recognized. Actually, in an ideal world, sexual assault wouldn’t even exist. But, as we’re sure you can tell, real life isn’t always positive and hopeful.

Real life requires time dedicated to educating students, staff and citizens about sexual assault.

SARC posts statistics about sexual assault on their website, one of which states that, across Canada, 82 per cent of all sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows. Also, one in six men will experience sexual violence at some time in their life. It’s troubling to know these facts exist, but this is what makes a week dedicated to educating university students about sexual violence so essential.

It’s a hard fact that sexual assault is an ongoing issue, and has been since the beginning of time. According to CBC News, a 15-year-old girl was recently raped by five or six men in Chicago, and the violent act was posted on Facebook Live. Forty people watched the video—yet none called the police to report it.

A 14-year-old boy was recently accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student at Heritage Regional High School in St. Hubert, according to CJAD. Longueuil police confirmed they are investigating allegations made by two other students about the same boy as well.

In December 2016, Gilles Deguire, a former Montreal politician and ex-police officer, pleaded guilty to sexually touching a minor, and was sentenced to six months behind bars.

These recent news events clearly show sexual assault is something that still needs to be discussed and acknowledged—especially early signs, so that it can be prevented. It’s important to talk about sexual violence, and it’s important to ask questions. One of the many root causes of sexual assault can be a lack of understanding, an issue which can be remedied by education.

We at The Concordian believe SARC should create a one-week workshop series to address various topics that relate to sexual assault—from the bystander effect, consent, and to the ways in which sexual violence can be prevented. We absolutely cannot ignore the great amount of work SARC has done to improve sexual assault awareness at Concordia, though—they’re a great resource, and have always been active when trying to prevent sexual violence and educating others. A one-week interactive workshop series, however, can improve their services and improve the overall education of sexual assault. Of course, sexual assault should be acknowledged as an issue every single day. But in the world we live in, it’s rare that it is—and perhaps a proper, educational initiative can help increase people’s understanding of sexual violence and how to prevent it.

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