UPDATE: CRARR TO FILE CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT FOR BLACK FORMER PRESIDENT OF CONCORDIA GRADUATE STUDENT ASSOCIATION
Montreal, November 15, 2016 — CRARR will proceed with a civil rights complaint to the Quebec human rights commission on behalf of the former President of Concordia University's Graduate Students Association (GSA), Alex Ocheoha, who experienced regular harassment during his term of office from other GSA directors.
Mr. Ocheoha, who is of Nigerian background, began his term as President of the GSA in June 2015 until May 2016. He was among a handful of Black students elected as representatives of the GSA in recent years.
During his mandate, Mr. Ocheoha faced repeated hostile conduct, including email communications, which he considered to constitute racial harassment, cyberharassment and defamatory allegations. He also faced actions and procedures adopted by some GSA directors that had the effect of attacking his dignity, his integrity and his pyschological well-being and preventing him from fulfilling his mandate in a productive and effective manner.
Some of the emails, which were widely circulated among some GSA directors, were openly offensive and denigrating. When Mr. Ocheoha complained of harassment, one director wrote to other directors, with c.c. to him, that “Aaaaw the grown up man feels harassed! Take your balls out of the pockets, put them where (i.e: between your legs) they should be and stop being a crying baby! Hahahaha.... The next time you show some sense of mental disorder, I'll send these emails to the police and they will request that you meet a psychiatrist (by force) because you need one.”
Another director wrote: “You may have lost your mind to the oblivion but please do become infectious to the association with your current state of mind.” The same director also wrote, “you're full of s-t” when Mr. Ocheoha complained of being harassed.
“Problems related to the internal operations of the GSA are one thing. Some of the emails examined so far, however, contain language that may constitute bullying, harassment and hurtful or disrespectful communications conducive to a toxic environment prescribed by law,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.
“We believe that the practices and language to which he was exposed constitute discrimination and harassment based on race intersecting with disability, even if the authors of these acts of harassments are themselves people of color,” noted Charlotte Cheong, a member of CRARR’s Working Group on Harassment.
Mr. Ocheoha sought the assistance of administration officials responsible for the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, including the Office of Rights and Responsibilities. In the end, there was no effective recourse or resolution offered to him. In addition, he could not seek help from internal student advocacy services, as the undergraduate office was not accessible to him and the graduate advocacy service was not functional.
“Some of the key questions that still need to be answered are whether the University’s policy on harassment is adequate, and why Mr. Ocheoha did not obtain effective assistance from University officials responsible for respectful conduct and students’ rights,” said Ms. Cheong.