Université Sainte-Anne in N.S. says it supports probe into 50 sexual assault claims

POINTE-DE-L'ÉGLISE, NOVA SCOTIA — Nova Scotia’s only French-language university is encouraging survivors of alleged historical sexual assaults on its campus to come forward, as it faces accusations it ignored rape allegations from students.

Université Sainte-Anne made the declaration on Facebook Thursday night, shortly after the RCMP said they had become aware of more than 50 alleged incidents of sexual assault at the campus between 2015 and 2019.

"We fully support this appeal from the (RCMP) to the public for information about alleged historical sexual assaults at the (university), and encourage any survivors to contact them or contact their local police," the school said.

Earlier this week an Instagram account called "SA Change Now" began posting about a "persistent rape culture" at the university in Pointe-de-l'Église, N.S., in the province's southwest. The account links to a website of the same name, which says the site was set up by current and former students at the university who felt they had to go public because administrators had not taken the allegations seriously.

The site includes a petition demanding the school improve student safety by installing more outdoor lights throughout the campus and dedicating an office or staff member to receive sexual assault complaints.

"Students at Sainte-Anne have, for years, raised complaints and questions about sexual harassment and sexual assault to little avail," the site says. "There is no on-site counsellor at the main campus … there is no on-site psychologist."

It adds that there were "at least 53 sexual assaults either on the Université Sainte-Anne campus or involving students from the university" between 2015 and 2019. The school had approximately 350 full-time students per year during that time, the website says.

Sainte-Anne spokeswoman Rachelle LeBlanc said in an email Friday that the university is taking the allegations seriously.

"Preventing and combating sexual violence in all its forms is of utmost importance to our university," she wrote. "We have been working diligently to update our sexual violence policy, improve lighting on campus, review the counsellor position, and we continue to offer information sessions, programs and training regarding consent and the prevention of sexual violence."

RCMP in Meteghan, N.S., made a public appeal on Thursday for any information related to alleged sexual assaults at the school. The force said in a news release that it "became aware" of the allegations on Tuesday. The Mounties said a review of their files found that four alleged sexual assaults at the university were investigated, but they did not release details.

Victims are welcome to discuss incidents with police before deciding whether to proceed in a potential investigation or court process, RCMP said. "Victim services are available and survivors will be supported," the release said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023.

The Canadian Press