English students association slams Concordia's handling of harassment complaints

The Concordia Association for Students in English is calling for changes in way the university follows up on harassment and abuse complaints, following CBC's report last week about complainants who weren't informed of the results of investigations.

'System for representing survivors of sexual violence, preventing the abuse of students is broken,' group says

The Concordia Association of Students in English said in a statement Monday that the university's harassment complaint system is 'broken.' (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The Concordia Association for Students in English (C.A.S.E.) criticized the university's handling of harassment complaints in the creative writing department Monday, following CBC's report last week about complainants who weren't informed of the results of investigations.

"Our institution's current system for representing survivors of sexual violence and preventing the abuse of students is broken," C.A.S.E. said in a statement.

"We condemn the mishandling of this case. From what we and our community members have learned about the official complaint process at Concordia, this end result is all too common." 

CBC reported last week on the case of two women who complained in January 2018 about harassment allegations. 

After one of the women tried for months to get updates from Concordia, she was told by the university that it "had reacted" but did not tell her the results of its investigation.

Last week CBC contacted the lawyer representing the professor about whom the women had complained and was told that the professor had been "completely exonerated" in September 2018.

'There's a lot of fear'

In an interview with CBC Monday, C.A.S.E. president Meredith Marty-Dugas said the atmosphere in the creative writing department is particularly tense.

"There's a lot of fear around who students can connect with or talk to, especially which faculty they can trust," Marty-Dugas said.

"The silence is complicity in the violence. The silence is what allows these kinds of actions to continue," she said.

C.A.S.E. is asking staff, faculty and alumni to sign a letter requesting a number of changes, including:

  • acknowledgement that the complaint system at Concordia and the legislation that supports its silence is broken.
  • assistance for complainants in writing their formal grievances and a commitment to provide the same kind of legal representation that accused professors and staff receive during an investigation.
  • a public apology to past and present English and creative writing students who have been put at risk of and experienced sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of professors over the years.
  • a regularly update to students and the public about actions taken by the university to implement these changes.

Minister's position unclear

Concordia maintains that it's prohibited by law from revealing the outcome of harassment investigations to complainants.

After CBC's report last week, a spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge seemed to suggest Concordia could do better.

"We believe it is natural for an institution that has investigated a harassment complaint against a member of its staff to report the results of the complaint to the person who originally filed the complaint," the spokesperson wrote to CBC in an email.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said last week the university should be more forthcoming, but Monday a spokesperson said the minister would have no further comment on the matter. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"Such complaints should be treated with as much transparency as possible," the spokesperson continued, saying the minister wanted the university to provide more information about its handling of the case.

Fiona Downey, a spokesperson for Concordia, responded to that comment in an email to CBC.

"We've been in contact with Quebec government officials to clarify that Concordia is, in fact, complying with all relevant legislation on matters of privacy and confidentiality," Downey wrote.

"We have been assured that Concordia's practices do comply."

Downey cited guidelines the ministry sent to universities to accompany Bill 151, which deals with preventing sexual violence at post-secondary institutions.

"When a decision has been made and sanctions imposed, the complainant should be informed of the end of the process," the guidelines read.

"However, the imposition of sanctions and their nature, if any, can not be revealed, as this information constitutes personal information."

Last Thursday, CBC asked Roberge to clarify the government's position. The minister's spokesperson responded Monday in a brief email.

"We will not be issuing additional comments in the immediate future," he said.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.