Professor accused of sexual misconduct
On September 2017, stickers warning students about a McGill Islamic Studies professor’s alleged history of sexual misconduct began to appear in women’s’ washrooms across campus. The stickers, put up by a group called Zero Tolerance McGill, prompted readers to send any testimonies of abuse at the hands of other faculty members, noting that the professor named in the stickers was up for tenure.
The professor agreed to answer some of The Daily’s questions on the condition that he remain unnamed. He claimed that the allegations were “categorically untrue” and that he was “deeply committed” to doing his part in order to “make every student feel safe in [his] classroom and on McGill’s campus.” He made no further comments to the Daily.
The World Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Student Association (WIMESSA) executive team for 2016-17 previously wrote an open letter to Robert Wisnovsky (director of the Institute for Islamic Studies) addressing the reputation of the professor. The letter, signed by roughly 50 students, accused the Institute of failing to take allegations of misconduct seriously and urged the administration to not reward the professor with a tenured position.
After The Daily published the first article in relation to this issue, the current WIMESSA executive team released a statement on Facebook expressing solidarity with those affected, and detailing their frustrations with institutional barriers to robust accountability. The WIMESSA VP Finance eventually resigned from her position, citing a mishandling of the professor’s actions as her reason for leaving the exec team. It also came to light that the president of WIMESSA was an employed research assistant of the professor accused. Thus, she decided to remove herself from any further conversations on the matter.
The incident brought attention to the lack of regulations on student-professor relationships as well as the lack of sufficient student consultation in the tenure process.
WIMESSA pledged to organize an open forum on the issue of sexual misconduct wherein students are able to voice their concerns to the administration.
Bill 151/survivor bill of rights
In December 2017, the Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 151, mandating that all educational institutions, including CEGEPs, must propose a policy addressing sexual assault, including relationships between students and teachers. The Bill was developed in collaboration with student organizations like the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), Our Turn, a national student-led action plan to end campus sexual violence, and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). The policy required that authorities be notified of any sexual relations between a student and someone who may have an influence on their education, like a professor.
However, not all recommendations made to protect the rights of the survivors were included in the final version of the bill, such as a “Defined Stand Alone Sexual Violence Policy,” which would discontinue processing sexual assault cases through the Student Code of Conduct. McGill’s sexual assault policy was graded a C- as it is not a stand-alone policy, and does not provide any avenues for justice if someone is assaulted by a faculty member.
The gaps in Bill 151 prompted community members, including AVEQ’s Coordinator of Mobilization Kristen Perry and SSMU VP External Connor Spencer to write an open letter criticizing the bill, which was later signed by 20 student organizations and 300 individual students. The letter calls for the introduction of “rape shield protections” to protect the privacy of the survivor’s sexual history, student representation of 30 percent on committees, as well as the students being made aware of sanctions put into place for their case.
Measures to ensure reasonable and defined timelines were recommended, such as a complaint process which does not exceed 45 days, and accommodations for survivors to be arranged within 48 hours of sending the complaint. The letter also suggested the creation of an independent oversight body, which would serve to listen to individual complaints put forth on the violation of their safety and/or rights by the institution.
Some of these requests were later adopted by SSMU in the unanimous passing of the Survivor’s Bill of Rights on January 25 2018.
In November 2017, the Principal’s Task Force on Respect and Inclusion was created. The Task Force was aimed to create “respectful and inclusive debate” in the university context, and how the university can develop “best practices” to handle conflict over issues of speech.
The task force is organized under the office of the Principal, and reports to Senate to provide recommendations after the completion of its research. While the Task Force does not have direct power to enact policy change, it serves as an advisory body to the Principal moving forward. The Task Force is composed of two McGill professors who serve as co-chairs, one undergraduate representative from the downtown campus, one undergraduate representative from the MacDonald campus, one graduate representative, two faculty members and two staff members.
On December 2017, the Task Force held a survey to the McGill community members regarding their experiences on respect and free speech. The language used in the survey prompted criticism, with only a few questions asked about inclusiveness. The consultative process included five closed-door focus groups around different themes throughout January, each composed of twenty students. Group submissions regarding the Task Force was accepted from the general public until the end of January.
In September 2017, the SSMU Board of Directors unanimously voted that the BDS movement violated SSMU’s constitution. Again, in January, an Open Forum on Campus Culture was the site of a discussion on whether or not the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement should be given on campus. Laila Parsons, a professor specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at McGill, spoke in support of students’ right to mobilize around the BDS movement, and criticized Principal Suzanne Fortier’s statement condemning the BDS movement after SSMU’s motion to endorse the movement did not pass in 2016.
The Task Force is expected to deliver a final report and submit their recommendations by the end of April 2018, then released to the public by mid May at the Senate.
February 2018 saw the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, the man accused of killing Colten Boushie. Boushie was a 22-year-old Indigenous man from Red Pheasant First Nation, who allegedly drove to Stanley’s farm to ask for help with a flat tire. Stanley then shot Boushie, later claiming his actions were the result of a “freak accident.” The acquittal garnered widespread outrage from Indigenous communities and settler allies, with demonstrations across the country demanding justice for Colten.
“How First Nations are treated in the justice system is not right,” said Boushie’s uncle Alvin Baptiste, speaking to the Toronto Star. “A white jury came out with a verdict of not guilty [for] Gerald Stanley, who shot and killed my nephew. This is how they treat us First Nations people. It is not right. Something has to be done about this.”
A vigil commemorating the life of Colten Boushie was held at Norman Bethune Square in Montreal near Concordia University to raise awareness about the injustice of the trial. The vigil was attended by over 100 people, policed by around twenty SPVM officers.
Two weeks after the acquittal of Stanley, Raymond Cormier was acquitted of the murder of 15 year old Tina Fontaine. The not-guilty verdict came even after Cormier’s apparent admission of guilt, caught on tape by the RCMP.
Another vigil was organized in response to Canadian institutions’ denial of justice to Indigenous people.