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Montréal, March 19, 2018 - A former student of Concordia University has taken the institution to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission for failure to protect her from sexual harassment and for violation of her civil rights, including the right to equality in education.

CRARR has filed a complaint on behalf of “Alya”, who is originally from Ontario and who was in her twenties when she enrolled in a BA degree with a major in Philosophy at Concordia in the fall of 2008.

At first, she developed a cordial relationship with her male professor “AB”, as she thought a supportive student-professor relationship would be beneficial to her academically. She soon realized that her professor's intentions fell far outside of the scope of a strictly professional student-professor relationship.

She was subject to continuous acts of inappropriate conduct that included persistent invitations to meet him off-campus at bars and concerts, requests that she ride in his car, pressure to drink alcohol in his presence, suggestions that he planned to slip alcohol into her non-alcoholic beverage, and various other comments that were highly flirtatious and sexual in nature. Some of his emails to her include lines such as “I could always slip some vodka into your pop when you weren't looking!!!!!!”; “Hi [Alya] (hug and kiss!), why did I say that?!”, and “You could always start with a nice light drink like Red Wine or a Cooler and branch out from there! Then we could go dancing!!”.

Feeling harassed and fearful of his persistent conduct, she began experiencing difficulty focusing on her schoolwork and completing her assignments, despite her previously strong academic record.

Alya sought help from Concordia in dealing with the academic repercussions of the harassment, namely anxiety that inhibited her from completing her final assignments in certain courses.

However, in seeking help, she was bounced around within the university. Each department gave excuses about why it could not help her. None of the 5 people from whom she sought help demonstrated any genuine commitment to helping her, and all of whom tried to pass her off to someone else so as not to have to deal with her situation.

In May 2009, she contacted the Director of the Office of Rights and Responsibilities (ORR), to report her situation and that of another female student, who experienced more serious sexual misconduct from professor AB, and to receive extensions for the assignments that the harassment had rendered her unable to complete.

The ORR head instructed her to circle back to the Chair of the Philosophy Department whom she already spoke to. Although she was given an extension and an independent grader for Prof. AB's assignment, the Chair told her that her feelings of discomfort were not sufficient to warrant his intervention. He further advised her not to mention the harassment she had faced to the two other professors, which later resulted in her receiving failing grades for two courses.

She sought help again from the ORR and was told that nothing more could be done and was told again not to discuss this situation with anyone else. In June 2009, overwhelmingly anxious and discouraged, the Victim left Concordia and transferred to York University, trippling her education costs.

In 2013, she moved back to Montreal. In 2014, she took classes at Concordia, and avoided the Philosophy Department, fearful of another run-in with her harasser. She also applied to McGill University but was denied admission by the latter due to her low grades from classes she was unable to complete during her harassment.

In December 2014, Alya tried once again to contact Concordia and gain some form of justice for what had happened to her. She contacted the new Chair of the Philosophy Department and included in her correspondence some of the e-mails, which evidenced Prof. AB’s harassment. The Chair forwarded her emails to the ORR.

The then-ORR Director told her that she had surpassed the time limit within which to file a complaint and suggested that she contact the Ombudsman or the Dean.

In February 2015, Alya contacted the University's Ombudsman and filed a complaint with this office. Two weeks later, she contacted the Ombudsman's office to get an update on the case. Nobody from this office has ever responded. Further discouraged and frustrated, she gave up.

In October 2017, Alya learned that even almost ten years later, several female students had refused to take their core philosophy courses with Prof. AB due to his reputation, and that the university had made the exception that allowed those female students to take the courses with other professors. She also learned that Prof. AB continued to be a tenured professor. At this point, she contacted the ORR once again and informed them that she intended to file a civil rights complaint against Concordia.

Alya contacted CRARR, which has been representing several Concordia students in gender and race discrimination cases against the University, and decided to pursue external legal recourses.

“I came to Concordia to study, full of hope and ideals that I could become a professor, but I ended being completely disillusioned with the university system after my sexual harassment. I was not taken seriously, bounced around and silenced by an “Ivory tower old boys' club” that was more interested in protecting a predator on campus than in protecting its students,” said Alya.

“I felt worthless and disregarded by all these people in authority positions who banded together to dismiss my calls for help,” she added.

“My right to equality in education, my sense of security, my integrity and my dignity have been seriously violated. I lost a part of my twenties and my freedom as a woman because of Concordia's willful blindness and gross negligence. What’s more, the person responsible still sits in his office untouched, and I was absolutely not the only victim,” she concluded.

In the complaint filed with the Human Rights Commission, CRARR is seeking damages. It also asks that Concordia take sanctions against professors found guilty of sexual violence and sexual harassment, and managers who fail to take expedient actions to correct and prevent campus sexual violence; and through its President and Board of Governors, act on these anti-sexual violence measures within six months of the resolution of the complaint.

“We are deeply disturbed, but not surprised, by the pattern of treatment Alya received at Concordia, because none of Concordia's internal recourses and policies worked for her, and because no one was held accountable”, said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.

“We've seen this institutional failure in case after case, and it comes down to a toxic, unsafe university culture that produces and perpetuates systemic discrimination against women, ” he concluded.