British Columbia

UBC sexual assault policies prompt open letter from faculty

UBC's current policies and procedures surrounding sexual assault 'have caused additional harm to some of those students and alumni who have reported abuse.'

Academics apologize for 'not doing and not demanding better'

A group of UBC faculty have written an open letter to the university community addressing the institution's handling of sexual assault complaints. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

UBC's current policies and procedures surrounding sexual assault have caused additional harm to some of those students and alumni who have reported abuse, according to a group of the university's faculty.

In an open letter to the UBC community dated Jan. 6, more than 50 academics so far have apologized for "not doing and not demanding better", and have pledged to take an active role in improving the policies and procedures "regarding sexual assault and related matters of safety and equity."

The letter, which was tweeted out Wednesday by associate professor Jonathan Ichikawa, notes that, following an investigative report by CBC's fifth estate, interim UBC president Martha Piper, "acknowledged that UBC must act in a 'more timely and effective manner' and promised to 'begin a discussion with students, faculty, and staff' on developing a sexual assault policy."

But, the letter states, the problems are too great to be dealt with by discussion alone.

Additional harm

"It is clear that some students and alumni who brought forward reports of sexual assault have suffered additional harm due to UBC's policies and procedures," the letter reads.

"We, as a group of UBC faculty members, wish now publicly to acknowledge this harm that resulted from a failure of UBC to take as seriously as it should its duties of care to members of its community.

"As faculty members, we share in a responsibility to ensure that UBC fulfill its obligations to protect its community. We apologize to the people affected for not doing and not demanding better."

The statement ends with a pledge that the signees will actively engage in the process of building new policies and procedures to include, "consulting with experts both within and beyond the UBC community, and helping to ensure that UBC engages in a fully consultative process regarding new policies and procedures."

Those policies, the group states, should be in place no later than September 2016.

School of secrets

The fifth estate edition, School of Secrets, was broadcast in November and revealed that UBC took more than a year and a half to act against a grad student despite mounting complaints of harassment or sexual assault by at least six women on campus.

In December, the university announced it had hired Vancouver labour and employment lawyer Paula Butler as an independent investigator to review the case.

Butler's report is expected to be ready in February, with a summary made available to the university community.