McGill University appoints special investigator for sexual misconduct complaints

After initially saying it had the resources and policies in place to investigate sexual misconduct complaints, McGill University has responded to concerns raised by students, admitting it can do better.

University admits it can do better, says new investigator will be at arm's length from faculty

Hundreds of students from McGill and Concordia universities walked out of class in April, protesting that their schools were not doing enough to address complaints of abusive behaviour and sexual misconduct. (CBC)

After initially saying it already had the resources and policies in place to investigate sexual misconduct complaints, McGill University has responded to concerns raised by the Students' Society of McGill University last month, now admitting it can do better.

In an email sent to students and staff Thursday, Provost Christopher Manfredi said the university will appoint a special investigator to look into all reports of sexual violence or sexual misconduct.

"Concerns expressed in recent weeks have focused on the importance of establishing a clearly identified site, outside of any Faculty, for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct and sexual violence," Manfredi said in the email.

"The special investigator will be at arm's length from the relevant disciplinary authority in any given case (e.g., Faculty Dean or Dean of Students)," he continued.

He said the investigator would begin work by next fall.

Expertise crucial for new position
Angela Campbell, associate provost at McGill University, said the special investigator will have to have expertise in sexual misconduct investigations. (McGill University)

In an interview with CBC, Angela Campbell,  the associate provost for policies, procedures and equity, said the university wants to hire someone with experience investigating sexual misconduct.

"It's really important to have somebody doing that who has expertise on how to collect evidence and interview people in a manner that shows awareness of the impact that sexual violence can have on a survivor," Campbell said.

"We want to make sure that people trust the office that carries out these investigations so that where there's an issue, people come forward," Campbell said.

Student lobbying inspired change

Campbell said the university had been considering hiring a special investigator for some time, but she admitted student demonstrations and lobbying over the last couple of months sped up the process.

"It called upon us to pay attention. It really sharpened the focus on what precise needs needed to be foregrounded," she said.

Connor Spencer, the vice-president of external relations with the students' society, who's been vocal in pushing for change, said appointing the special investigator is a huge step forward.

"That is a win, for sure. This is something we've been asking for since last August," Spencer told CBC.

She said the current system, where faculty deans review complaints within their own departments, was untenable.

"They have a vested interest in maintaining the reputation of their faculty and not seeing complaints go through," Spencer said.

In addition to appointing the special investigator, McGill says it will create an ad hoc committee to make policy recommendations on the issue of intimate relationships between staff and students.

Right now, professors are required to disclose in writing any relationships they have with students within their department.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.