University of Ottawa won't commit to investigating sexualized pub crawl
WARNING: This article contains graphic details
University of Ottawa administrators will not commit to investigating the organizers of a now cancelled annual pub crawl, during which students were reportedly encouraged to engage in sexual acts in exchange for team points.
The student federation is investigating instead, said university president Jacques Frémont on Thursday morning.
"We will get in touch with them [the federation] today to see what can be done," he said.
"The federation and the student association, if they want to conduct an inquiry, I think it's probably the proper thing to do and we will support them."
'A lot of work to do'
Asked if there will be sanctions, Frémont said the university would wait to see how the investigation unfolds, but added that's not the important issue.
"The main issue is not so much the sanctions — it's to take stock that we've worked very hard for this coming back to school in September. There's been sessions, we've invested money and time, the whole campus came around the new sexual harassment policy," he said.
"But still, this event happened. I think it shows how deeply entrenched that culture remains on the campus and elsewhere in society, and it shows we have a lot of work to do."
Student journalist infiltrated event
The most recent edition of the pub crawl, known as the Vet's Tour, happened Oct. 7 and was infiltrated by Yasmine Mehdi, a news editor at the French-language student newspaper La Rotonde, who said she intended to write an article on it.
According to Mehdi, close to 150 participants took part in the event. She saw a list of dares to be performed during the tour of private rooms in bars in Ottawa's ByWard Market. Those who completed the acts to a judge's satisfaction received points.
The event, which has taken place for several years, has included challenges such as being naked in the bar, performing oral sex on one of the judges, having sex in a bar bathroom and eating a doughnut off a judge's penis, she said.
Once the details came to light the pub crawl was quickly condemned by the university and the school's Science Students' Association, which ran it. Future events have been cancelled, the association said.
Mehdi, meanwhile, has been receiving threats of sexual violence and racial slurs on social media since the story broke.
"So a Muslim now tells CBC that having fun at College & University is against her ethics & morals. According to Sharia Law university students can't have a good time or party. She wasn't invited (for obvious reasons) and now has a hate-on for some white kids who drink," one post Mehdi shared on Twitter reads.
"Sorry Yasmine, in this country your parents immigrated to we drink, we f--- & we eat pork. Take your Nazi social control back wherever u came from," it continues.
Backlash 'absolutely unacceptable,' university president says
Frémont condemned the backlash against Mehdi on Thursday.
"The comments that were made ... against the reporter from the student journal La Rotonde are absolutely unacceptable. Cyberbullying and hate speech have no place on our campus or in our society," he said.
"I reached out to the reporter to express my deep concern."
For her part, Mehdi said she expected some backlash but not to this degree.
She's considering filing a complaint with police, she said.
Event cancelled in 2014-15 but brought back
Elsa Mirzaei, a former president of the Science Students' Association, brought forward concerns about the event in 2013, then cancelled it while serving as head of the association in the 2014-15 academic year.
In 2013, Mirzaei's attempts to make the event safer weren't fully successful.
"Many students who had been around and who had done it before and who were on the executive told me that because the event was happening between consenting adults, that I shouldn't be worried and that I shouldn't really impede on the event," Mirzaei said in an interview.
"In my year, 2013, that's when the slogan was, 'It's not peer pressure, it's just your turn.' So I did argue that coercion was involved in this event, but I was shot down by some older male students."
In 2014-15, other members supported the decision to cancel the pub crawl.
"People were fully supportive of me in that year, which I guess is kind of interesting now, to see certain members who had actually returned from my year, who seemed to continue this event [in 2016]. It was just a shock to me," Mirzaei said.
'Need to be held accountable'
"I have a really hard time believing that the executive didn't understand the high risk associated with the event. I really have a difficult time believing that it was really worth it for the fun just to put people in those situations of coercion. And I really think that they do need to be held accountable for putting these students [at] risk."
While it's unfortunate some students who enjoyed the event are feeling shamed for their sexuality, Mirzaei said the reports of sexual harassment, coercion and assault stemming from the pub crawl over the years made continuing the event "a really irresponsible choice."
Mirzaei said: "Now that this has happened, I hope it doesn't come back in future years under a more secretive way, and I hope that the members who were responsible for putting it on really are able to sit down and humble themselves and have some serious reflection about the kind of risk that they were putting people [in]."