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Montreal, August 5, 2016 — In early July, the family of “Emily”, a 19-year-old student at John Abbott College who was sexually assaulted, contacted CRARR for help through a family friend.

“Emily” was reportedly assaulted by a male student in her summer class on June 8, an individual whom she barely knew. He began inappropriately touching “Emily” during class, which then escalated with an act of sexual violence committed against her in the boy’s washroom on campus. After the sexual assault, “Emily” met her mother and grandmother who rushed to school. “Emily” was in a visible state of distraught, with injuries that included bite marks and large welts on her neck.

Campus security and police were called. The police explicitly told her that it was not necessary for her to go to the hospital.

“Emily” later met with the SPVM detectives investigating the case, on two occasions. At the first meeting, “Emily” was assured by one of the detectives that she had a strong case and she would be supported by the detectives. However, a week later, the detectives told her that upon review of the video footage from the College, which showed “Emily” and the alleged assailant talking casually before class, that she was falsely accusing him and that she was “delusional”. They also told her she appeared to be “enjoying it” in the footage. Further, they told her parents to put her on suicide watch.

Although its mandate is to combat racial discrimination, CRARR is also, and increasingly so, involved in civil rights cases in which the fundamental principles of equality and dignity are at stake, especially when victims of such civil rights violations cannot turn to others for help.

CRARR supported Emily and her family because her case raises substantial equality questions. Sexual violence, on campus or elsewhere, is also a civil rights issue. Survivors of sexual violence possess civil rights and basic freedoms that are protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, such as the right to life and security of the person, the right to dignity and integrity, and the right to equality. Too often, sexual violence is treated only as a criminal act but not a civil rights violation. This must change.

In “Emily’s” case, the police’s intervention and investigation raises considerable questions as to whether she was fairly treated and provided the equal protection and benefit of the law. It appears that the Montreal Police Service’s dismissal of her case on the basis of a simple video footage that showed her talking to the male student on campus, failure to interrogate the alleged aggressor, and treating her as a mentally unbalanced woman, raises a major red flag regarding the police’s understanding of consent and sexist stereotypes.

If the tragic case of Maria Altagracia Dorval, a Black woman in Montreal-North who was killed by her ex-spouse despite her report to the police, taught the community something, it is that a call for help from a survivor of sexual violence should not be taken lightly.

CRARR is equally concerned with the fact that since June 8, “Emily” and her family have received little support and information, if any, from John Abbott College, in terms of her rights and the recourses and services available to her, and most importantly, measures to be taken to ensure her physical and psychological safety on campus.

It appears that the College’s policy on campus sexual violence is either fundamentally inadequate, or that it has not been effectively followed. The fact that the policy is silent on the notion of a mandatory Student’s Bill of Rights whereby the assaulted student is rapidly informed of rights, recourses and services available to her on or off-campus, and that for almost two months, top college officials failed to reach out to “Emily” and her parents, is serious cause for concern, and reform.

As shown by the “Mei Ling” case of racial and sexual harassment by student club executives at Concordia University, in which CRARR represents the victim before the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, campus sexual violence requires effective, clear, and tough responses from criminal law and human rights law in terms of adequate support for survivors, appropriate sanctions for the aggressor and accountability for the institution regarding the latter’s duty to protect students from discrimination and violence on campus.

CRARR will work with “Emily” and her family to ensure her safety as school resumes on August 22, to restore and protect her civil rights, to seek changes in institutional policies and practice, and to promote a healthy, safe and respectful environment for all.

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