Student pleads for reform of McGill's code of conduct after assault by fellow student

McGill student Kathryn Leci says the university hasn’t done enough to support her after she was brutally assaulted by a fellow McGill student off campus in September 2015.

'I needed protection ... and it didn't come through': Kathryn Leci says university didn't support her

McGill student says the university hasn’t done enough to support her after an off-campus assault

6 years ago
Duration 0:24
Leci said the assault left her with a concussion and, due to post-concussion syndrome, she had to take eight months off school and still must wear a hearing aid to focus in class.

A McGill undergraduate student says the university hasn't done enough to support her after she was brutally assaulted by a fellow McGill student off campus in September 2015.

Chemical engineering student Kathryn Leci said she was verbally harassed and later knocked unconscious by Conrad Gaysford — a fellow McGill student whom she'd never met before the attack.

Gaysford was charged with assault causing bodily harm and criminal harassment in relation to the incidents. Municipal court documents show he has agreed to the facts of the assault.

A spokesperson for Montreal's municipal court said he will be found guilty of assault causing bodily harm at a May 26 hearing.

Leci said the assault left her with a concussion and, due to post-concussion syndrome, she had to take eight months off school and still must wear a hearing aid to focus in class.

"I went from chemical engineering, going to school, you know, writing exams, working on these cool projects and these labs and all these things," Leci said.

"Then a month later I was in a rehabilitation institute being taught about what the best way to go get groceries was."

Bail conditions compel Gaysford to keep his distance

After he was charged in November 2015, Gaysford was released on bail. His bail conditions prohibit him from being within 25 metres of Leci.

However, Gaysford has been allowed to continue his studies.

McGill's code of student conduct and disciplinary procedures states that "No student shall, on property owned or occupied by the University, or in a University context: (a) Assault another person."

McGill administrators have told her that because the incident happened off campus, the code of student conduct doesn't apply.

Conrad Gaysford, right, is to be found guilty of assault causing bodily harm when he appears in municipal court in late May. (Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University)

Leci said she didn't expect McGill to expel Gaysford.

However, she's repeatedly asked administrators for help, suggesting, for example, an adjustment of his schedule or having him complete classes remotely, so that she would never risk running into Gaysford on campus. But they did nothing.

Leci said she's come a long way since the assault, but McGill's response has left her angry and disenchanted.

She's speaking out because she hopes to change the system, she said, so McGill can better support those in similar situations in the future.

Sparked by catcalling incident, according to Leci

Leci said she believes the attack was triggered by a catcalling incident on a Friday early in the 2015 fall term. She said she and a friend were walking through the Milton Park area, heading to a party, when a group of men started harassing them.

When one of them, a man with a British accent, made a lewd comment in a loud voice, the pair of women confronted them, she said.

Not wanting things to escalate, Leci said, she and her friend left, taking a different route to the party.

When they arrived, she said, a man blocked her at the door.

"Oh, it's you again," Leci recalled him saying. She recognized the British accent and said she then realized it was the same man who had directed a lewd comment at her on the way to the party.

She said she agreed to talk to him outside on the sidewalk, and the man and a friend of his began yelling at her for having called them out for their catcalls.

He punched me as hard as he could in the lower left jaw. I was unconscious before I even hit the ground.- Kathryn Leci's version of what happened in September 2015 assault

At first, she laughed, but she said the man reacted to her laughter by asking Leci if she wanted to punch him, since she was so tough. She said that's when she realized she was in danger.

"I said, 'Look, I'm not going to fight a man twice my size,'" she recalled. "I distinctly remember shrugging and placing my hands behind my back because in my mind I thought if I show him that I'm completely non-aggressive, and I'm not engaging, he'll leave me alone."

"I said, 'I'm sorry, I have no intention of fighting,'" she told CBC.

Leci said the man then asked her if she would admit she was a stupid bitch. She said no. Leci said that's when the man hit her.

"He punched me as hard as he could in the lower left jaw. I was unconscious before I even hit the ground. So I landed limp into the street essentially. I just cracked the back of my head onto the pavement," she said.

Leci woke up being hauled into an ambulance. She spent a night in the hospital. When she was released the next day, she was handed a pamphlet on traumatic brain injury and told to come back if symptoms persisted.

CBC News tried several times to contact Gaysford to get his version of the events that led to his charges. Neither he nor his lawyer replied to our requests for comment.

Getting through her degree

The next day, Leci reported the incident to police. The police said they couldn't do anything if she didn't know the name of her attacker, so Leci and her friend went sleuthing.

They picked through Facebook accounts of friends and friends of friends at the party until she found Gaysford's profile. That's when she discovered he was from London — and a student at McGill.

She went straight to McGill administrators to tell them what had happened and to ask what they could do to ensure her safety. Gaysford hadn't yet been charged, and the officials told her they couldn't do anything except ask him to stay away from her.

After charges were laid two months later, Leci returned to the administration, sure that officials would now offer her some sort of concrete protection on campus.

Legally, McGill had to enable Gaysford to comply with his bail conditions, but Leci said McGill officials told her that Gaysford's academics could not be disrupted. They told Leci to notify McGill security if she came into contact with him.

Frustrated and scared, Leci said, she was forced to limit her own time on campus in order to avoid Gaysford. She dropped a course she had in the building where she knew most of his courses were and had her friends take notes for her in many classes.

Kathryn Leci has had to relearn how to study after a concussion resulting from the assault.

She said the effects of the attack lingered. Throughout the semester, she suffered from nausea, memory loss, insomnia, tinnitus and anxiety. By the time she went home for winter break, she had lost close to 25 pounds.

At her parents' urging, Leci decided to take the rest of the term off and enrol in a rehabilitation program for people with head injuries, to learn "how to live with your new brain," she said.

"To be learning this, while my peers are getting their degrees in engineering, while [Gaysford] is attending lectures, unaffected, playing sports, doing whatever he wants. And I'm sitting there, waiting," was frustrating and infuriating, she said.

Set to graduate — along with Gaysford

Leci returned to school in September and is slated to graduate in a few weeks. So is Gaysford, she said.

Being on campus with Gaysford has been a challenge for Leci.

"There have been instances where I've physically run into him, brushed shoulders with him, crossed his path, and that's incredibly difficult for me."

She saw him four times last semester, she said — but she imagines she sees him every day.

"Any time I entered a room — and to be honest with you, I still do this — I have to check to make sure. Is he there? Is that him?"

Student code to be reviewed: McGill

Ollivier Dyens, McGill's deputy provost for student life and learning, told CBC that McGill cannot discuss a matter that is before the courts.

McGill University's administration says it will review the student code of conduct in the coming year. (McGill University)

He did say, however, that McGill plans to review the instances to which the code applies.

"Whether and how [the 'McGill context'] should be redefined is a difficult issue which has been an ongoing concern and which we will examine as we undertake the review of the student code of conduct in the coming year," Dyens said in an emailed statement to CBC.

Leci thinks the student code of conduct needs revision, and she hopes to be part of that process.

"The student code is very, very clear in your commitment when you come to McGill to academic integrity. It's very explicit. But the commitment to personal integrity is not really there," she said.