St. F.X.: ‘We can do bet­ter’

Univer­sity stu­dent ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault with­draws, pres­i­dent apol­o­gizes

The Expositor (Brantford) - - NEWS - BRETT BUNDALE THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

ANTIGO­NISH, N.S. — A St. Francis Xavier Univer­sity stu­dent ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault has with­drawn from the school, cap­ping a week of con­tro­versy af­ter it was re­vealed he was al­lowed to re­main on cam­pus pend­ing a crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

The Antigo­nish, N.S., school’s pres­i­dent apol­o­gized Fri­day for how the case was han­dled, and said af­ter “much re­flec­tion and ad­vice” he con­cluded that the stu­dent should leave the univer­sity.

The Toronto-area woman who re­ported the al­le­ga­tions said Fri­day she has “mixed emo­tions” about the out­come, while the ac­cused said in a state­ment that it’s with a “heavy heart” that he vol­un­tar­ily with­drew.

It’s a sit­u­a­tion that un­der­scores the chal­lenge of ad­dress­ing sex­ual as­sault claims on cam­pus amidst the on­go­ing cul­tural reck­on­ing of the #MeToo era.

In a two-page let­ter to the cam­pus com­mu­nity, pres­i­dent Kent Mac­Don­ald said, “I ac­knowl­edge and ac­cept the fact that we can do bet­ter.”

“In this par­tic­u­lar case, there were clear gaps in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ap­par­ent is­sues re­lat­ing to our ap­peal pro­cesses that neg­a­tively af­fected our univer­sity com­mu­nity and, in some cases, re­trau­ma­tized vic­tim/sur­vivors,” he said. “For this, I am sorry.” Mac­Don­ald’s com­ments come af­ter The Cana­dian Press re­vealed an On­tario woman’s ex­pe­ri­ence re­port­ing an al­leged sex­ual as­sault to the univer­sity.

Although the school launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter the woman came for­ward and found the ac­cused re­spon­si­ble, it set aside its de­ci­sion to sus­pend him the next aca­demic year — with­out no­ti­fy­ing her — when he ap­pealed.

The woman, whose name is un­der a pub­li­ca­tion ban, was dev­as­tated to dis­cover him on cam­pus last month and has since left the univer­sity.

In an in­ter­view from her Toronto-area home, the woman said she’s “happy the school is tak­ing steps towards pos­i­tive change.”

“I’m re­ally proud of how the St. F.X. com­mu­nity, the stu­dent body, has ral­lied be­hind this and I’m thank­ful for all the sup­port that’s been shown to me,” she said.

Still, the 19-year-old said the apol­ogy was “a lit­tle late” for her, and she won’t be re­turn­ing to the Nova Sco­tia school.

“It seems like the school only re­acted af­ter there was a neg­a­tive back­lash on so­cial me­dia,” she said. “It’s a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing it took that for them to re­spond ... but it’s still nice to fi­nally get some recog­ni­tion.”

Mean­while, she said she’s strug­gling to get her aca­demics back on track and seek­ing coun­selling for symp­toms in­clud­ing panic at­tacks from “trig­gers” that re­mind her of the al­leged sex­ual as­sault.

Court doc­u­ments show her al­leged as­sailant was charged with sex­ual as­sault and re­leased on con­di­tions. A pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry is set for Nov. 29.

In a state­ment to The Cana­dian Press, the ac­cused ac­knowl­edged that “al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct must be taken se­ri­ously.”

“I also be­lieve that the right to a fair hear­ing dur­ing any quasi­ju­di­cial process, as well as a right to be pre­sumed in­no­cent in a court of law, are vi­tal pil­lars of our democ­racy,” said the ac­cused.

“I do not be­lieve that the process I went through at St. F.X. last spring was fair and bal­anced.”

He de­nied sex­u­ally as­sault­ing the young woman, but said the “out­rage” that has en­veloped the univer­sity has caused too much stress for the St. F.X. com­mu­nity, and that he never in­tended to bring harm to the school.

“It was dis­heart­en­ing to hear friendly ac­quain­tances on cam­pus talk­ing about the rapist among them, ac­cept­ing the me­dia sto­ries with­out ques­tion,” the ac­cused said. “They didn’t know that I was the per­son re­ferred to in the ar­ti­cles and the sub­ject of all the talk.”

He added: “The ar­ti­cles do not tell the whole story.”

The case has drawn at­ten­tion to how post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions han­dle sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions, and whether poli­cies aimed at tack­ling sex­ual vi­o­lence go far enough.

Mac­Don­ald, also vice-chan­cel­lor of St. F.X., al­luded to the broader so­cial cli­mate, say­ing the univer­sity ap­pre­ci­ates the con­tin­ued com­mu­nity en­gage­ment as it nav­i­gates “this very com­plex, and long-stand­ing so­ci­etal is­sue.”

In order to im­prove the univer­sity’s poli­cies, Mac­Don­ald said there will be a re­view of the school’s dis­ci­plinary code as it re­lates to ap­peals.

He said he’s also asked for an up­date on the con­nec­tion be­tween St. F.X.’s new sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy and the univer­sity’s code of con­duct to en­sure con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the work of the school’s sex­u­al­ized vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion com­mit­tee and the univer­sity’s ju­di­cial process.

“We can, and will, do bet­ter to sup­port vic­tim/sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence,” Mac­Don­ald said.

Stu­dents at St. F.X. called for a re­view of the school’s sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy this week to en­sure a “sur­vivor-cen­tric” ap­proach.

Stu­dent Union pres­i­dent Re­becca Me­say said she wit­nessed a range of emo­tions among stu­dents from “anger to sad­ness to fear.”

She pub­lished a let­ter out­lin­ing the stu­dent union’s rec­om­men­da­tions to ad­dress sex­ual vi­o­lence on cam­pus — a re­sponse Mac­Don­ald called in­spir­ing.

Nova Sco­tia Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Labi Kousoulis said this week he was “shocked” by the univer­sity’s han­dling of the case, and said he asked his de­part­ment to ex­plore op­tions to re­move stu­dents ac­cused of sex­ual vi­o­lence from cam­pus while crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings are on­go­ing. A spokes­woman for the Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment said the pro­vin­cial sex­ual vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion com­mit­tee will re­view the stand­alone sex­ual vi­o­lence poli­cies of all Nova Sco­tia uni­ver­si­ties.

“The min­is­ter has also asked this com­mit­tee to look at the re­port­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­cesses re­lated to sex­ual vi­o­lence within uni­ver­si­ties to en­sure they’re sur­vivor-cen­tric,” Shan­non Kerr said in an email.

“The pri­or­ity is to en­sure all sex­ual vi­o­lence poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in Nova Sco­tia post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions are sur­vivor-cen­tric.”

AN­DREW VAUGHAN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A sign marks one of the en­trances to the St. Francis Xavier Univer­sity cam­pus in Antigo­nish, N.S. on Fri­day.

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