Brandon University dodges plagiarism charges in sexual violence report

A student activist group at Brandon University is calling for answers from school administrators following allegations the Manitoba university borrowed too heavily from a similar report from Queen's University.

'They're supposed to be the ones teaching us and leading from example,' says We Believe Survivors organizer

A student activist group accuses Brandon University of borrowing heavily from a sexual violence task force report released by Queen's University last spring. (CBC)

Despite identical phrases peppered through a task force report on sexual violence, Brandon University is not directly responding to allegations it plagiarized a similar report by Queen's University released last April.

A Brandon University spokesperson described the Queen's policy as "widely known, an example to be followed and highly suitable for Brandon University."  

The Brandon University sexual violence task force's written recommendations do not cite or acknowledge the Queen's University report at any point in the document.

A spokesperson with Brandon University said the school's task force did its own "extensive review" of policy in this area, adding a university committee will have more to add this fall.

He would not answer questions about other schools that use the Queen's policy, other policies that were found to be inadequate or address the plagiarism accusations head-on.

Queen's University also weighed in. Communications officer Anne Craig said it is common for universities to check out each other's policies. 

"Our shared goal is to support students," she said.

After noticing the similarities between the two reports, Stefon Irvine, one of the lead organizers with We Believe Survivors, said, "My reaction was, it really shows that this task force, I would maybe even say, never ever met." 

"I did a little bit of background research, just a quick Google like everybody has the power to do, and within seconds the Queen's University report popped up," he said, adding faculty members initially discovered the similarity.

A Brandon University student says she signed this contract after an alleged sexual assault on campus. (Supplied )

It all comes following an admission this week by the Brandon University president that the school made a mistake when it had a student sign a behavioural contract following an alleged sexual assault. 

University president Gervan Fearon said earlier this week that behavioural contracts will no longer be used in sexual assault cases. 

Brandon University released its task force recommendations publicly this week. It shares much of the same wording in all nine of its objectives, although the recommendations are not in the same order as the Queen's report. The formatting is virtually identical.

The Queen's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Report and Recommendations were released in April 2015.

Each school's objectives include ideas such as developing a central response team or centre for sexual assault, educating first-year students, tracking reports and making the institutional response to them clear.

Not bad ideas, said Irvine, although he said they are not specific enough to Brandon, which has fewer students and a smaller campus footprint compared to Queen's.

"Lend from those, borrow from those, totally," he said of other universities' policies. "But if you're going to use someone else's idea, as a student we're taught to reference that."

Suspension, expulsion possible for BU students who plagiarize

The university's own policy on academic dishonesty lists varying penalties, including possible suspension or expulsion from courses, teams or the university itself. A degree can also be taken away.

"They're supposed to be the ones teaching us and leading from example," Irvine said about university administration, calling for similar penalties in this case.

The group We Believe Survivors sent its own list of demands to university officials yesterday, including calls for a public apology and the release of sexual assault report numbers.

Irvine said the group will raise its concerns about this latest development with the university today, adding he would also like to see a paper trail from the task force's work, including meeting minutes, documents, notes or bibliographical files, to prove the task force actually met.

Brandon University has not replied to requests from CBC for documentation that would prove the task force met, including meeting dates, agendas or minutes.

The issue runs deeper than copying and pasting, Irvine said.

"This is all looking into the bigger picture of how an institution covers up sexual assault," he said.

Stories and messages of solidarity were posted Wednesday in a common area at Brandon University. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)