UBC’s han­dling of sex as­sault case goes to tri­bunal

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE -

Stephanie Hale re­mem­bers jump­ing up and down and cry­ing tears of joy when she re­ceived her ac­cep­tance let­ter from the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

Now, she wishes she had pur­sued her de­gree any­where else.

Hale has filed a com­plaint with B.C.’s Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal al­leg­ing the univer­sity failed to take ac­tion af­ter she re­ported a sex­ual as­sault, lead­ing her to strug­gle in class and take med­i­cal leave. It is the sec­ond known com­plaint the in­sti­tu­tion is fac­ing.

“I want there to be a bet­ter process for when this hap­pens again,” said Hale, 23. “There are go­ing to be oth­ers, which is a ter­ri­ble shame. UBC is a re­ally well-re­spected univer­sity and I feel it should set an ex­am­ple for other in­sti­tu­tions for how to han­dle these kinds of in­ci­dents.”

The univer­sity has been un­der fire for its re­sponse to sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions since 2015, when a group of women came for­ward to say the school had dragged its heels on com­plaints about a male PhD stu­dent. Glyn­nis Kirch­meier, who al­leged she wit­nessed mis­con­duct by the man, filed a hu­man rights com­plaint the fol­low­ing year.

In re­sponse to the crit­i­cism, as well as to a new B.C. law re­quir­ing uni­ver­si­ties to have sex­ual mis­con­duct poli­cies, UBC passed a spe­cial­ized pol­icy ear­lier this year. It set up cen­tral­ized of­fices at both its cam­puses to re­ceive re­ports, which are to be han­dled by in­ves­ti­ga­tors with sex­ual as­sault ex­per­tise.

When con­tacted about Hale’s com­plaint, UBC said pri­vacy leg­is­la­tion does not per­mit it to dis­cuss in­di­vid­ual cases.

Hale al­leges the univer­sity dis­crim­i­nated against her based on her sex and men­tal dis­abil­ity, re­fer­ring to her anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. She says in the doc­u­ments that she was sex­u­ally as­saulted, choked and hit by a fel­low stu­dent in Jan­uary 2013.

The stu­dent has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. He has pre­vi­ously told The Cana­dian Press the sex was con­sen­sual and she asked him to choke and hit her, which he did al­though it made him un­com­fort­able.

The Cana­dian Press does not typ­i­cally iden­tify com­plainants in sex­ual as­sault cases, but Hale wants her name used.

Hale re­ported the al­le­ga­tion of sex­ual as­sault to mul­ti­ple UBC staff mem­bers in 2013, but none sug­gested she make a com­plaint or di­rected her to rel­e­vant poli­cies, she says in the doc­u­ments filed with the tri­bunal.

The univer­sity took no ac­tion, she says, and she con­tin­ued to see her al­leged at­tacker in classes. Her grades started slip­ping, she suf­fered from night­mares and be­gan to feel sui­ci­dal. She went on med­i­cal leave in De­cem­ber 2015 and has not re­turned to school.

The fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary, she learned of the non-aca­demic mis­con­duct pol­icy, which pre­vi­ously was one of two poli­cies that dealt with sex­ual as­sault. The process was the same one used for theft or van­dal­ism and in­volved a panel of stu­dents judg­ing whether an at­tack oc­curred.

The hu­man rights com­plaint says Hale’s lawyer wrote a let­ter to UBC re­quest­ing it ap­point a prop­erly trained in­ves­ti­ga­tor. UBC de­clined and ul­ti­mately the hear­ing was held with­out Hale in late 2016. The com­mit­tee cleared the man of mis­con­duct.

Hale is seek­ing an or­der re­quir­ing the univer­sity and her al­leged at­tacker to make up for her lost ed­u­ca­tional time, her past and fu­ture wage losses and com­plaint-re­lated costs. She’s also ask­ing the univer­sity to fa­cil­i­tate the com­ple­tion of her de­gree. Fi­nally, she’s ask­ing that the univer­sity re­vise its new sex­ual as­sault pol­icy. Com­plainants, un­like re­spon­dents, are still not al­lowed to file ap­peals or see the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s re­port, she said.

But Sara-Jane Fin­lay, as­so­ciate vice-pres­i­dent of eq­uity and in­clu­sion, said the new pol­icy does mean com­plainants will be pro­vided the re­port at the end of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We wanted to make sure that com­plainants re­ceived as much in­for­ma­tion as they pos­si­bly could be­cause we rec­og­nized how im­por­tant that was for res­o­lu­tion and heal­ing,” she said.

A com­mit­tee pro­vid­ing in­put on the pol­icy hopes to dis­cuss cre­at­ing an ap­peal process for com­plainants, she added.

Kirch­meier said she is also seek­ing changes to the pol­icy. She pro­vided a let­ter from the tri­bunal dated Sept. 12 that states her com­plaint is mov­ing for­ward and UBC must file a re­sponse by Oct. 17.

She said UBC’s con­duct to­ward Hale was “jaw-drop­ping.”

A num­ber of stu­dents across Canada have filed sim­i­lar hu­man­rights com­plaints against uni­ver­si­ties in re­cent years. It’s faster and less ex­pen­sive than a law­suit and the tri­bunal can or­der pol­icy changes, said Karen Busby, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba.

She said she didn’t know of re­search on the ef­fect on uni­ver­si­ties, but there has been a “sea change” in how em­ploy­ers ap­proach sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“I would at­tribute that to the fact that hu­man-rights com­plaints can be made against em­ploy­ers.”

The Cana­dian Press

JEFF BASSETT/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Stephanie Hale, 23, says the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia dis­crim­i­nated against her be­cause of her gen­der and men­tal dis­abil­ity af­ter she filed a sex­ual as­sault com­plaint.

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