FORMER PRESIDENT OF CONCORDIA GRADUATE STUDENT ASSOCIATION FILES CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT AGAINST THREE HARASSERS AND THE GSA
Montreal, January 6, 2017 — The former President of Concordia University's Graduate Students Association (GSA), Alex Ocheoha, has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission against the association and three Directors who actively engaged in discrimination, harassment and intimidation against him during his term of office.
Mr. Ocheoha, who is of Nigerian background, began his term in June 2015 until May 2016. During this period, he repeatedly faced problems and attacks from three GSA Directors in particular. The problems included procedures proposed by these individuals with the goal to prevent him from fulfilling his mandate, intimidate him and expose him to constant ridicule, contempt and loss of dignity. These directors frequently attempted to impeach him and deprive him of his executive salaries were but two of the problems encountered. Many of these attempts were later repudiated by the GSA Council.
In addition, Mr. Ocheoha was often targeted in numerous email communications sent by two Directors in particular to all Council members, in which there were explicit insults, offensive jokes and intimidation directed at him. Many of the openly hostile slurs and disrespectful comments aimed at Mr. Ocheoha involve his age (he is older than many other GSA Directors), race and perceived or insinuated mental disability.
After reviewing the evidence and testimonies from other Council members who were deeply offended and intimidated by the three key harassing Directors, CRARR has filed this week, on behalf of Mr. Ocheoha, a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission. The complaint claims discrimination and harassment based on the intersectionality of his race, age, civil status and perceived mental disability.
CRARR is seeking $15,000 in moral and punitive damages against the GSA as a whole, for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent and stop the harassment and abuse directed at Mr. Ocheoha. In addition, CRARR claims between $12,000 and $15,000 in moral and punitive damages from each of the three Directors who were behind the acts.
CRARR is also demanding that the GSA:
❏ Adopt a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination and harassment involving Charter prohibited grounds such as race, age, and disability, that will include a provision on accommodation based on family status and child care needs;
❏ Implement mandatory training on civil rights and respectful and civil conduct for three consecutive years, for all GSA Directors and Executives; and
❏ Set up a functional and effective mechanism to rapidly and adequately receive, examine, and resolve complaints from Council Directors and Executives involving discrimination and harassment.
According to CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi, the case also highlights a disturbing failure on the part of the University administration to enforce the Code of Rights and Responsibilities and prevent the abuses directed at Mr. Ocheoha. Mr. Ocheoha tried to seek help from the Office of Rights and Responsibilities but was turned down for unclear reasons. The Dean of Students held a meeting with GSA Council Directors but most failed to attend.
Also at issue were highly inappropriate practices, such as the case of one Director living in a shared office space, the threatening conduct of a Director on campus that led to the police being called, and the fact that one Director signed his emails containing slurs in his capacity as a research assistant at the University's Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.
“Hopefully, the human rights commission's eventual investigation into the case should bring to light the University's systemic failures to maintain a safe and respectful environment for Mr. Ocheoha and other Directors in GSA activities on campus,” noted Mr. Niemi.
“The poisoned environment at the GSA should not have been allowed to fester and escalate without consequences for those responsible,” he said.