Sexual assault counsellor headed to University of Manitoba campus amid misconduct investigations

After the University of Manitoba announced five internal investigations into faculty members, including two allegations of sexual assault, Klinic will be staffing a sexual assault counsellor on campus for one-on-one meetings with students.

2 faculty members suspended while 5 investigations underway

Klinic, a community health organization that runs a sexual assault crisis line in Winnipeg, will now offer in-person consultations to students at the University of Manitoba campus on a weekly basis. The move comes after the university announced it is investigating three alleged cases of sexual misconduct by faculty. (Google Street View)

After the University of Manitoba announced internal investigations into faculty members — including three cases of alleged sexual misconduct — Klinic will be staffing a sexual assault counsellor on campus for one-on-one meetings with students.

The university has five open investigations into faculty members' conduct, it said Wednesday. Two of the investigations involve sexual assault, one involves sexual harassment and two involve human rights complaints.

Two faculty members are on leave in connection with the investigations, the university said.

U of M president David Barnard published an open letter on the subject, saying the university is expanding support services for students.

Klinic executive director Nicole Chammartin said that includes bringing a Klinic counsellor to campus one day a week. 

"We're happy to be there, offering services on site," said Chammartin.

"We'll also be working with their other counsellors to support them in supporting students who are experiencing sexual assault and build their capacity."

Klinic, a community health organization, runs a Winnipeg-wide crisis line for sexual assault victims and assists victims in reporting violence and in recovery.

The counsellor begins meeting with students on campus, every week, starting Sept. 11.

Follows high-profile departures

Chammartin said she was not surprised to learn of the investigations. The revelation follows two high-profile departures from the university by faculty accused of sexual misconduct.

In 2017, jazz professor Steve Kirby retired from the university after current and former students brought forward allegations of sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual contact.

Two years earlier, a medical processor accused of asking students for sexual favours resigned. Dr. Gary Allan Joseph Harding was found guilty of professional misconduct by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba in July and ordered never to teach medicine again.

"I think we're in the middle of a societal movement. I think the university is just another place that's being impacted by that," said Chammartin.

"For those of us in the field, we always knew there was so much more. What's encouraging is knowing that the rest of the population is starting to understand that."

Training for staff, faculty is key

Julie Lalonde, an Ottawa-based women's rights advocate, consultant and educator, also commended the university for its open, transparent letter to students.

Far too often universities lean keep reports of sexual assault private to the detriment of victims, she said.

"Overall campuses really tend to try to deal with things discreetly. They don't like things to get out in the media, they are deeply worried about their reputation and so generally campuses really try to keep things like this as hush-hush as possible."

University of Manitoba students at a demonstration in October 2017. Nicole Chammartin, executive director of Klinic, said the #MeToo movement is encouraging students to report when instructors act inappropriately. (CBC)

Being transparent about investigations and providing a community-based service on campus is positive "first step," but shouldn't be the only step, said Lalonde.

"You don't change a culture on campus with just providing sexual assault services like that because they are inherently reactionary. That's not prevention," she said.

Lalonde is echoing calls by the University of Manitoba Students' Union for more formal, permanent funding. She said training for students, employees and faculty is required so everyone understands rules around interactions with students and violence prevention.

Barnard's letter said the university will work to ensure faculty, staff and students receive "appropriate levels of support and training" with regards to "sexual violence, consent and power relationships."

"Inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus is unacceptable, and, quite honestly, I find such conduct to be horrible and appalling," he wrote.

To access the new on-campus Klinic service, students can contact student affairs at the university.