McGill students anxious for update in sexual misconduct investigation

·4 min read

Some students at McGill University say they're anxious for an update into an investigation that began before the holidays, looking into sexual misconduct allegations against a student.

The investigation was launched Dec.16, after an online petition signed by more than 50,000 people alleged that a first-year student had sexually assaulted several young women on campus last fall.

Some of those students filed formal complaints with the university.

The petition called on the university to take action in order to re-establish trust and safety for young women.

"It's making people antsy, it's making people feel paranoid, it's making people feel on edge," - McGill student on lack of update from university on sexual misconduct investigation

McGill sent an email to students in December explaining that the university was looking into the case and urging students who needed support to contact the university's office for sexual violence response.

Since then, the university hasn't updated students.

"The lack of communication and transparency between the school and the student body just makes it seem like McGill is trying to cover things up," student Anna Ni told CBC, in an interview Monday.

In addition to Ni, CBC spoke to two other McGill students who signed the petition. They are not among the alleged victims of the young man in question, but they asked not to be named so as not to face online harassment.

"People are asking, people want to know, and it's radio silence from the university," one of them told CBC.

"It's making people antsy, it's making people feel paranoid, it's making people feel on edge," the other said.

Student under investigation still attending online classes

All three students CBC spoke to said they had expected an update from McGill before classes resumed earlier this month.

Almost all classes at McGill are currently online only due to COVID-19.

Both Ni and another student said they were taken aback when they recognized the name of the student under investigation as being present in some of their online classes on Zoom.

"I was shocked. I didn't realize that he didn't get any consequences and that he was still in our class," Ni said.

She said the student under investigation responded to a question from the professor during the online class, which was attended by about 300 students.

She said seeing him made her stressed, and that she was unable to finish the class.

"For sure they should've informed us that he was still in school," she said. "Because they didn't tell us anything it was like a slap in the face."

"Seeing his name pop up on that Zoom list was a blow," said another student, who was present in a Zoom class with the student under investigation.

"I was fearful. I was extremely uncomfortable," she continued.

She said for that class, the professor used "breakout rooms" on Zoom to create small group discussions, and she realized that meant some students would be forced to interact with the student who was under investigation.

"Luckily I was not in his breakout room, but I couldn't help but picture how uncomfortable that environment would be," she said.

McGill says investigation ongoing

Cynthia Lee, associate director of media relations for McGill, told CBC in an email that the investigation is ongoing.

McGill's sexual violence policy stipulates such investigations must be conducted and completed within 90 days of receiving a formal complaint.

"Until such process is complete, nothing can be assumed about its outcome, and disciplinary actions cannot be pre-emptively taken," Lee said.

"However, interim measures are put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of those directly affected," she added, without specifying what those measures were.

"The entirety of this process is covered by confidentiality regulations imposed on us by law, and as such, details or updates concerning particular cases cannot be provided to anyone outside those immediately involved," Lee said.

CBC hasn't spoken to any of the women who filed formal complaints about the alleged misconduct.

A friend of the complainants told CBC in December the women had consulted a lawyer and wouldn't be speaking publicly.

CBC reached out to the student who's under investigation. He said he was unable to comment for now.