Montreal·Exclusive

Lawyer says Concordia creative writing prof cleared of harassment allegations

Two former Concordia University creative writing students who came forward with harassment allegations last year were surprised to learn the professor they accused was 'completely exonerated' last September after an internal investigation by the university.

Education minister wants to know why complainants were never informed about results of investigation

Two women who filed harassment complaints a year ago about incidents dating back to the 1990s say they were never told by Concordia University that the professor they accused was 'completely exonerated' last September after an internal investigation. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Two former Concordia University creative writing students who came forward with harassment allegations last year were surprised to learn this week the professor they accused was "completely exonerated" last September after an internal investigation by the university.

The complainants were never told the professor had been cleared, only learning of it after CBC heard from the professor's lawyer this week.

Concordia University would not confirm the exoneration to CBC.

"It's ridiculous. It's absurd," one of the complainants, Toronto novelist Ibi Kaslik, told CBC in an interview Tuesday. "I can't even get upset. I can't cry anymore."

"I just find that ridiculous, insane, laughable. It's so unprofessional," said the other woman, who's not being named to protect her privacy, in an interview with CBC Tuesday.

In January 2018 both women filed harassment complaints about allegations dating back to the 1990s involving a professor who remains in the English department.

Both were inspired to come forward and file complaints after a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations in the creative writing department that month.

University never mentioned exoneration

Kaslik has tried to get updates on the status of her complaint several times over the past year.

Toronto novelist Ibi Kaslik told CBC it's 'absurd' that Concordia never told her about the outcome of the investigation into her complaint. (Ibi Kaslik)

Last month, she was able to speak to Carolina Willsher, Concordia's associate vice-president for human resources.

"She said to me, 'The investigator collected the information, presented it to the university, and the university reacted,'" Kaslik said, recounting her conversation with Willsher.

"I said: 'And?'"

"And she said: 'That's all I can tell you.'"

Kaslik said Willsher told her her complaint was 'not in vain,' but that the university can't reveal anything about the outcome of the investigation for confidentiality and privacy reasons.

CBC contacted the professor last year for reaction when we first reported the allegations and again last week.

He never responded.

Monday, the professor's lawyer emailed CBC.

"We suspect that you are unaware of the fact that on Sept. 4, 2018, the internal investigation at Concordia has completely exonerated [the professor] both of sexual conduct and inappropriate conduct in the two cases," his lawyer wrote.

'We were shunned'

Kaslik said Concordia should have told her about the exoneration.

"Why was this information not conveyed to me at the time I spoke with Carolina Willsher? Why is this information being conveyed to me through the media?" she asked.

"We were asked our stories, and then we were shunned. We were not involved in that process. We were not made aware of anything," she continued.

"They haven't actually done a process that is transparent. They haven't been clear regarding the outcome," the other complainant said.

Education minister wants to know more

In an email to CBC Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, Francis Bouchard, said the ministry would be asking Concordia for more information about the case.

"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 email read.

"Such complaints should be treated with as much transparency as possible," it continued.

Concordia responds

Concordia refused to offer an official to be interviewed, but Fiona Downey, the university's senior advisor for public affairs, responded to CBC in an email.

"For reasons of confidentiality and privacy, including privacy legislation, we can't comment on any specific matter regarding our faculty, staff or students," Downey wrote.

The statement then praised women who've come forward to complain.

"This past year has marked a period of growth and progress on these issues across institutions including those of higher learning, and the progress that has been — and will continue to be achieved — is, in large measure, attributable to courageous voices that have been raised," the statement read.

"We want to acknowledge and applaud the courage of individuals who have come forward to tell their stories and to provoke change. We will all benefit from their courage."

The statement also spelled out a number of measures Concordia has taken since the flurry of complaints last year, including:​

  • an updated sexual violence policy that uses more survivor-centric language and provides more clarity on the process and support services available to the community.
  • the creation of a permanent standing committee to address campus issues related to sexual misconduct and sexual violence.
  • a series of community conversations on sexual violence.
  • guidelines to govern romantic or sexual relationships between students and faculty and staff. 
  • over 50 presentations to discuss the guidelines in departments and units across the university.  
  • hosting a meeting of 14 CEGEPs and four Quebec universities to share best practices in the implementation of Bill 151, an act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions.
  • working on mandatory consent training for staff, faculty and student association leaders, which has made available to CEGEPs and other universities.

Downey also said the results of an independent "climate review" in the university's English department are to be released shortly.

Two other creative writing professors under investigation on unrelated complaints weren't assigned to classes this year.

It's not clear if the investigation of complaints regarding those professors have been completed.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.