Women say Carleton pickets crossed line with sex assault comments

Two women say they felt surprised and threatened by comments from men in a picket line for striking campus security workers last week.

Say they were told there's a 'large chance' they'd be sexually assaulted if they went on campus

Camille Baello, left, and Jaclyn Ng say they've heard from other women who've had threatening comments made by members of the security workers' picket line. (Courtesy Camille Baello and Jaclyn Ng)
Two women say they felt surprised and threatened by comments from men in a picket line for striking campus security workers last week.

Carleton University alumna Camille Baello and student Jaclyn Ng, who are roommates, said they were crossing the OPSEU Local 404 picket line March 11 when two men yelled out to them.

"One man had kind of yelled out 'Hey I wouldn't go onto campus if I were you, there's a large chance you may get sexually assaulted,'" Baello said.

"Initially we reacted by putting our heads down and trying to walk past it, but then another man yelled out as well, 'Do you feel safe on campus… the school doesn't care for your safety, I wouldn't go onto campus if I were you, you might get sexually assaulted.'"

Baello said they were disturbed by how casually the comments were made and how nobody came to their defence.

They added they've heard from other female students who said they'd experienced something similar while crossing the picket line.

Union: Never something we'd accept

The president of OPSEU 404, Devon Reeves, said he's been on the picket lines every day until Thursday, when bargaining with the university got back underway.

Carleton students walk onto campus past a picket line of striking campus security workers earlier this month. (Stu Mills/CBC)
He said he hadn't heard anyone say that during his time on the lines and the union still doesn't know exactly what was said, but it's never something he'd accept.

"I'd assume if it was said, it was taken out of context," he said.

"It was of course not meant as a threat... we know our members wouldn't threaten anyone in any way."

Reeves said he's heard from women on campus they feel less safe since campus security workers went on strike March 10 and their message is to students to be wary of the fact they've been replaced with private security workers.

He said they're assuming something happened that caused students to feel threatened and he's asked his picket captains to make sure nobody on a picket line, union or non-union supporter, makes anyone feel threatened.

OPSEU Local 404 represents special constables, student safety patrollers and dispatchers on campus.

They said they're striking over wages and staff levels.

Comments harmful, misleading

Dillon Black is a Carleton student and a member of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW).

Black said such comments would trivialize students who've experienced sexual assault or rape culture and are also misleading.

"There's kind of a weird positioning that because of safety (staff), Carleton is safe," Black said.

"I feel like that sort of turns the narrative around about sexual assault on campus because 80 per cent of sexual assault  happens from people that we know, so if people are going around spreading myths like that individual did, what happens is it spreads misinformation to individuals on campus.

"Basically what you're saying is sexual assaults occur by strangers, which they mostly don't."

Baello and Ng said part of the reason they wrote an op-ed in The Charlatan student newspaper was to spur on a bigger discussion with staff, students and administration about how to make a safer campus community.