British Columbia

'Now is the time' to address sexual assault concerns, says UBC's director of investigations

UBC's new director of investigations is encouraging young women to voice concerns and report sexual assaults in light of #MeToo movement and the recent case involving an Okanagan campus professor.

Comes as professor is placed under supervision with a 'focus on' sexual harassment

Women around the world are posting #MeToo on social media to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

The new director of investigations for the University of British Columbia says "now is the best time" for young women to be open about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct and demand change from institutions.

Myrna McCallum, a former Crown prosecutor and defence lawyer, spoke to a crowd Wednesday at UBC's Okanagan campus in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. She did not discuss the allegations that surfaced earlier this month against UBC professor Stephen Porter.

"I don't want to comment specifically on the Porter issue. I had no involvement in any decision-making process," said McCallum, who assumed her new role in August.

"But in my experience, anything negative or perceived to be negative, could always be used as a catalyst for something positive."

Allegations against UBCO professor

Porter, an award-winning forensic psychology expert at UBCO, stepped aside from teaching duties after his practice was placed under supervision by the B.C. College of Psychologists with a "particular focus on" sexual harassment and boundary issues.

Two complainants have come forward to CBC, one alleging Porter sexually harassed her and another alleging he groped her. However the university has not disclosed the nature of the allegations due to privacy concerns.

An investigation commissioned by UBC in 2017 found that, in the alleged harassment case, the relationship between Porter and the student was consensual — although it did violate the university's conflict of interest rules.

In the alleged groping case, the same investigator found Porter did touch the complainant, but he was too drunk to form sexual intent. However, his inebriated state did breach UBC's respectful environment statement. 

Forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen Porter has consented to a reprimand from B.C.'s College of Psychologists. He has also been placed under supervision with a focus on sexual harassment and boundary issues. (YouTube)

McCallum says while the university is withholding details of the allegations, the fact that UBC has a new sexual assault policy "says a lot about UBC's commitment and intention going forward."

'Speak out about it'

She referenced the global #MeToo movement — which has seen a wave of sexual assault allegations against numerous high-profile men — saying UBC students should share their concerns.

"If people feel that [the Porter case] is a demonstration of institutional betrayal versus institutional trust, then they can speak out about it," said McCallum.

"Now is the time to be really open about what is on everybody's minds. Now is the best time to come forward and say exactly what you're thinking."

As part of her new role, McCallum will collaborate with the school's Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office and will oversee future investigations related to harassment and sexual misconduct.

The school says such offices have now been established at both the Okanagan and Vancouver campuses.

With files from CBC's Brady Strachan.