York University's safety policies questioned after assaults

The head of York University's student federation and an organization that wrote a report about safety on the campus both say the school is not doing enough to protect students.
A string of alleged sexual assaults at York University is raising questions of how the institution communicates with its students, Genevieve Tomney reports. 2:19

The head of York University's students federation and an organization that wrote a report about safety on the campus both say the school is not doing enough to protect students.

"I don't think the university's necessarily trying to cover it up," said Vanessa Hunt, president of York Federation of Students. "I just think they've done a bad job and they need to step up their game."

Vanessa Hunt, president of the York Federation of Students, says the university needs to do a better job communicating with students. (CBC)

The university, which has a history of crime on campus, was the site of a string of alleged assaults last week.

Oshane Leach, 20, of Toronto appeared in a city courtroom on Wednesday for the second consecutive day, but he will not have a bail hearing until Friday.

It is alleged that Leach groped five women last week on or near the York campus.

The university has come under fire for being slow to get information about the alleged assaults out to students. It posted security bulletins within 24 hours, but did not send an email until four days later.

Following the rapes of two women in their dorms in 2007, the school ordered a safety audit. A final report was released by The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) in 2010, including a recommendation to establish a system for sending out text message alerts.

The organization says communication at York is still a problem two years later.

"The longer you take to share that information, it's really not benefiting anyone except perhaps the suspect or the assailant who can then continue to assault and maybe become a bit more bold," said Michelle Davis, the organization's safety director.

The students federation is also concerned that York has no firm policy on how to handle reports of sexual assault, and no obligation to inform police when they hear a complaint. The onus is instead on the victim.

Hunt and METRAC both say York has done a good job in some areas, such as installing more cameras on campus. Police are crediting surveillance video with helping them make a quick arrest in this case.

Joanne Rider, a spokeswoman with York University, said the institution is doing what it can. 

"We continue to work with our safety committee … to look at ways that we can enhance and build on the number of things we've already put in place to increase security and safety," she said.  

With files from CBC's Genevieve Tomney