Canada·CBC Investigates

Brock University faced earlier sex assault complaint involving history professor

The professor at the centre of Brock University’s recent sexual harassment scandal faced a very similar allegation from a different student only months earlier in a complaint also involving large amounts of alcohol, CBC News has learned.

President says he didn't do anything ‘untoward’ in handling of allegation from first complaint

New allegations of sexual assault reveal just how ill equipped the Brock University administration was in dealing with the alleged assailant and complainant 1:53
The professor at the centre of Brock University's recent sexual harassment scandal faced a very similar allegation from a different student only months earlier in a complaint also involving large amounts of alcohol, CBC News has learned. 
Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., faced an earlier sex assault complaint involving a history professor who was at the centre of a recent sexual harassment scandal. (CBC )

"I went through [my complaint] because I didn't want it to happen again and then it did," the former student at the university in Ontario's Niagara region told CBC News. "I thought, how could this be possible?

She reported being groped and kissed by Brock University history Prof. David Schimmelpenninck in January 2014 while he was drinking. Eventually her allegation was investigated and it was determined there wasn't enough evidence to support the claim.

However, the investigation, conducted by a lawyer hired by the university, documented that the professor was offering alcohol to the female student and drinking with her in his office during work hours and socially.

Less than three months after that finding, the incident involving the second student took place.

Brock University Prof. David Schimmelpenninck denies both incidents. (Brock University website)

A second investigation conducted at the time, also by a lawyer hired by the university, confirmed the allegations of the student involved in the second complaint. The professor offered her alcohol late one night in his office and tried to force himself on her sexually while he was drunk.

According to a statement from the university last month, Schimmelpenninck is no longer "assigned to a class and is not on campus."

The professor denies both incidents.

"I was just so devastated," the student involved in the first complaint says. "I was so upset to think he had assaulted someone just a few weeks after my investigation into my complaint had ended, because it was so brazen."

Student thought something would be done

The investigation report flowing from the first student's allegations, addressed directly to university president Jack Lightstone, includes several references to Schimmelpenninck's drinking with the student both socially and on the job.

The student believed, regardless of the outcome of the investigation into her alleged assault, something would be done about the professor's drinking with students.

"I thought oh good, because you know if there's disciplinary action taken against Schimmelpenninck for these other behaviors, if there's a new alcohol policy, he probably can't do it again," she says, "because there would be all these restrictions and he'll know that they're keeping an eye on him."

Brock University students protested last month against the university's handling of a sexual harassment case involving a history professor at the school. (CBC)

Whatever action the university took, it didn't stop the professor from continuing to drink with his students.

Weeks later, according to the investigation, he groped and kissed the second student late one night in his office, after a long night of drinking at the campus bar with his students.

Schimmelpennink told the investigator in that case he was so drunk he couldn't remember what happened.

Brock University Prof. Tim Conley supported the first student during her process of coming forward. He is disappointed and frustrated by the way his university handled her case.

"If you have a faculty member who's making these errors in judgement, in a way that requires some attention right there, it needs some help, you need to address that," he says. "Otherwise the odds are good it is going to happen again."

In an email to CBC News, Prof. Schimmelpenninck says he had a "drinking problem" but that he stopped drinking last year and is now seeing a "professional counsellor."

He also denies both incidents.

"I have never made any sexual advances to any student," the statement says. "The pain that this coverage is causing me and those close to me cannot be overstated."

In an email from the university, it says it will now update its alcohol policy, but it won't be ready until June of this year. That's nearly two years after the professor's drinking was documented in the first investigator's report.

Frustration increased

Adding to the first student's frustration is how the university initially reacted to her complaint.

She says she met with university president Lightstone before her allegation was investigated, when she says he told her she could be paid if she chose to deal with her complaint "informally."

"On a very visceral level, it made me feel like I was a prostitute," she says.

She says Lightstone encouraged her to handle her complaint "informally," which meant no records would be created on Schimmelpenninck's file.

She says Lightstone told her that would be to her advantage because the university's union wouldn't be able to appeal whatever decision was made during the "informal" process and the complaint could be handled more quickly.

The university's Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy also encourages "informal" resolutions in cases of harassment, unless "the behaviour is of a more serious nature than can be dealt with by informal resolution."

If the student chose that route, she says, the president told her she could be compensated.

"I was really shocked and horrified that the president thought a professor could pay to sexually abuse students and then just walk away," she says, explaining what she took from president's comment.

"It shouldn't just be about me, it should be about others and about the reputation of the school and the environment of the school. But the president didn't see it that way. He saw it as, OK, he resolved it, how do we shut this person up?"

Recollections vary

Two other university employees who attended that meeting, including Conley, do not recall the president suggesting financial compensation as a possibility, but a third former university employee who attended the meeting does.

"[The president] kept looking at [the student] and was almost trying to talk her into an informal process and the informal process would leave no paper trail," Rebecca Boucher told CBC News in an interview.

She was employed by the university at the time as a student therapist and was supporting the student.

"The other piece that really stood out was that [the president] made mention that there was a potential for monetary compensation," she added. "It was just so offensive. It really didn't feel like he was taking it seriously. It really felt like he was trying to make it go away."

In written statements provided through lawyers and his communications office, Brock University president Jack Lightstone said that 'it is inaccurate and totally inappropriate to suggest that the president did anything untoward in how this case was handled.' (CBC)

Lightstone declined to be interviewed by CBC News about these latest allegations, and also declined to directly answer questions provided by CBC News in writing, but he did provide written statements through lawyers and his communications office.

In the letters, they say "the university is constrained, by law, from providing the details [CBC News] is seeking.

"This student did make a complaint, and the university hired a third-party investigator to investigate it. The investigator concluded that the case be closed due to lack of evidence," the letters go on to say.

And in some cases, the university says it will offer to pay for counselling.

"It is inaccurate and totally inappropriate to suggest that the president did anything untoward in how this case was handled."

Systemic issues

The first student's complaint also revealed systemic issues with Brock's policies for dealing with sexual violence, contradicting what the president of the university told CBC News in March.

"What we do have of course, is a very robust sexual harassment procedure," Lightstone told the CBC's Diana Swain in an interview.

"Brock was one of the first universities in Canada to have a sexual harassment policy," he added. "So if anything our sexual harassment policies are older than others, I think, having been way ahead of the curve."

However, those who supported the student say it was a mess.

"There were basically two policies … and they are conflicted," says former Brock University counsellor Boucher. "So nobody knew which policy to proceed under which was like the first roadblock, because it meant nobody wanted to touch it."

Brock University Prof. Tim Conley supported the first student while she came forward and is frustrated by the way his university handled her case. (CBC)

"It really got very contradictory," added the Brock professor who supported the first student. "Every time we went through one door it would close, we would go back, backtrack find another door and that one would close."

"I realized that I was working at a university that had no system in place," says Conley. "Or to put it really grimly, I learned that in the right circumstances, I could sexually assault a student and nothing would come of it, nothing of any consequence, and that is a really terrible thing to recognize. It shouldn't be like that."

It took more than six months, from when the first student first came forward to make the complaint before the final investigation report was issued.

The university says it has struck a task force that will review all of its policies. For the first student who came forward, however, that's not enough.

"I think president Lightstone should resign," she says.

"Who else can you blame but president Lightstone?" she added. "He knew all about this, he is the head of the university, he's responsible for the behaviour of the faculty, the protection of the students…. You will only see real change in academia when people see that there are consequences."


For confidential tips on this story, please contact Timothy Sawa at timothy.sawa@cbc.ca or 647-382-7789, or Lori Ward at lori.ward@cbc.ca or via CBC Secure Drop.

About the Author

Timothy Sawa

Investigative journalist

Timothy Sawa works for CBC's Investigative Unit and the fifth estate, and has been an investigative journalist at CBC News for more than a decade. He has produced investigations looking at police corruption, sexual abuse in public institutions and offshore tax evasion.