Office of Human Rights and Equity to review handling of library incidents
By SAM MATHERS
On January 27th, the Thunder Bay Police Service took a young male into custody after campus security responded to a report of voyeurism in the Chancellor Paterson Library. Police were called around 6:30 p.m. and based on a description of the suspect provided by the female complainant, apprehended the man. The following Monday, he was released unconditionally, police stating, “it was deemed the incident was non-criminal.”
This comes just two months after a female student reported being filmed by a male holding a cellphone under the door of a stall in the library’s second floor bathroom.
About a week later, another student came forward, alleging they had been filmed in the library without consent in October.
Constable Julie Tilbury told CBC News that there appeared to be no connection between the incident in January and the incidents in the fall.
Lakehead University reminded its students to “remain vigilant.”
President Brian Stevenson said a review of the university’s handling of the November incident would be conducted by the Office of Human Rights and Equity. Director of Human Rights and Equity Dreeni Geer spoke with The Argus, saying the review is being conducted because “the president and the administration of the university recognize that some things were not done as well as they could have been.” Geer said the office is looking at the incident “from all angles,” focusing on the university’s response in order to learn from it.
Geer says that “sexual violence is the most underreported crime ever,” and that “most crimes that happen in a city happen at a university at a lower rate – except for sexual violence.”
In 2015, CBC News contacted 87 universities and colleges across Canada, requesting the number of sexual assaults reported on campus between 2009 and 2013.
Lakehead University reported one.
An LU student who wishes to remain anonymous spoke of their time at the university for the past six and a half years, saying: “Things have gotten better, but you’re definitely dealing with something that not a lot of students know about or are educated on, and also I’m sure there are a lot of students [whose] public education didn’t talk about consent and didn’t talk about all those things… people don’t really know how to advocate for themselves… I’m sure when students are eighteen, nineteen they don’t really know, and it’s scary.”
When asked about their opinion on the university’s handling of the event, the individual stated: “I think its definitely too late in the year for them to do anything effective – I’m curious to see what they’ll do for orientation next year… I’m not confident.”
A second Lakehead University student who also wishes to remain anonymous stated: “These incidents are unfortunately not isolated or singular experiences: women face the threat of violence on campus all the time. There is a rape culture on campus and we live in a patriarchal society which dismisses that notion. Instead of telling students to ‘be vigilant,’ the institution should take responsibility for educating individuals about consent and what are appropriate behaviours — what is it going to take for the administration to take that seriously?”
The victim that reported being filmed in the library bathroom does not think the university appropriately handled the situation. She sent a letter to local media outlets, saying the “severity of this incident [was] downplayed,” and the “legitimacy of [her] claims were being questioned.”
It should be noted, the university sent out an official notice warning students of the incident six days after it happened and one day after it was reported by CBC.
The LU student to first speak anonymously with The Argus added, “At that point it’s – I hate to say this – but it’s like a he said/she said thing, and oftentimes the people who the situation happens to, the victim or survivor, people just don’t believe them and don’t think its serious. It can be traumatic.”
Geer stresses the effectiveness of Lakehead’s sexual violence policy, saying: “Lakehead has always been a leader with sexual violence policies. Our sexual misconduct policy put us ahead of the pack, and this policy is still keeping us at the head of the pack, so we absolutely stand by the fact that it is survivor centred. We take confidentiality extremely seriously. We’ve seen a lot of positive results already from this policy, we’ve been able to help people, first and foremost support survivors which is what this policy is all about.”
There appears to be a disconnect between the university’s sexual violence policy and the student’s faith in the university’s ability to execute it. Only time will tell if this opinion has any merit, when the Office of Human Rights and Equity completes its review.
The hope is that as Geer says, the results of the review allow the university to learn from these incidents, and handle incidents like it more effectively in the future. Until then, it seems students will just have to “remain vigilant.”