SETTLEMENT OF STUDENT'S COMPLAINT AGAINST CONCORDIA STUDENT ASSOCIATION FOR SEXIST AND RACIST TREATMENTS
Montreal, November 23, 2015 — The complaint filed by CRARR on behalf of “Mei Ling”, a biracial female student seeking redress against the largest undergraduate student association at Concordia University, for discrimination and harassment based on her race and gender, has been settled last Thursday.
The case, which rocked the Concordia University community last March, involves “Mei Ling”, who was a Vice President of the Arts and Science Faculty Association (ASFA) for a one-year mandate in 2013-2014. After being elected to the ASFA executive, she stumbled upon Facebook conversations between the President and Vice-President (both male) of ASFA, which were left open on a public ASFA computer and included many offensive racist, misogynistic slurs, sexually graphic insults, degrading sexual imagery, and sexual violence directed at her.
She was also exposed to practices and conduct that marginalized and ridiculed her, often with the support of other executive members. For instance, executive members decided against giving her an academic award before any application was submitted, she was shunned from being part of executive events and Facebook chats, and was the only executive to have been denied her bonus.
When she sought help from the University's Dean of Students who told her that there was nothing the University could do because the messages were “private.” She then had to seek help from the Center for Gender and Advocacy and the Concordia Student Union Legal Information Office, which referred her to CRARR.
CRARR filed a complaint in March 2015 with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission against the two top ASFA executives as well as ASFA itself, citing race and gender-based discrimination and harassment. CRARR sought $30,000 in moral and punitive damages for her and other remedies to stamp out sexism, racism and the rape culture on campus.
Due to the change in executive leadership at ASFA, CRARR and “Mei Ling” accepted mediation and reached, last Thursday, a settlement with ASFA. The settlement includes an undisclosed amount of monetary compensation and an official apology.
In addition, ASFA has agreed to set up an independent Task Force composed of internal Concordia stakeholders with knowledge about sexual violence, human rights, and related laws, as well as external community representatives and experts.
The Task Force mandate is to “address the issues raised by this complaint including, but not limited to (i) violence and discrimination against women and minorities within student associations and other university bodies, and (ii) means for ensuring that complaints related to these issues are processed thoroughly and expediently in future cases.”
In addition, the Task Force will determine concrete ways “to develop and implement measures to ensure that members of the ASFA and Concordia community, and women in particular, can learn, work, and be involved in campus life free of civil rights violations and violence in all its forms.”
“I am very pleased with the way ASFA as a whole acknowledges the hurt it caused to me and my family, and the need to take pro-active actions, such as mandatory training, to ensure an environment free of sexual violence, racism and other oppressions,” said “Mei Ling.”
“This is the battle and the cause that are greater than myself-because I want to make sure that no other woman and no other human being at Concordia University has to go through what I went through,” she added.
Reached two days after the Quebec Government released its Plan of Action Against Intimidation, which also addressed racist, sexist and homophobic harassment in educational settings, the outcome of the case is expected to change debates and actions regarding sexual violence on campus.
First, CRARR and “Mei Ling” expect the Task Force to be composed of largely students and outside experts who will reflect the diversity of Concordia's population, especially where Aboriginal, racialized, international, disabled and LGBT women are concerned.
Secondly, sexual violence is treated not only as a criminal act, but also as a civil rights violation, and perpetrators can be both prosecuted in criminal court and sued in civil court.
Thirdly, educational institutions can and should be held liable for allowing rape culture and a toxic, oppressive environment, and they must translate its duty to protect into concrete and effective actions to correct and prevent sexism and racism,
Finally, it is expected that actions against sexual violence at Concordia will include and benefit students at other local universities and colleges, “because awareness and change need to start early,” noted Brandy deGaia, CRARR's community organizer who works on the file.
“Sexual violence is not and should not be seen as an issue about and for able-bodied white women alone, and actions against sexual violence must take into account the diverse needs of women - and men - of all backgrounds,” stated Ms. deGaia.
If the terms of the settlement are not respected by ASFA in a reasonable timeframe, CRARR and “Mei Ling” will turn to the Superior Court to homologate the Settlement Agreement. “Mei Ling” should receive her compensation and the letter of apology in a matter of days.
The complaints against the two former male ASFA executives are under investigation by the Quebec human rights commission. “Mei Ling” declined mediation for these two cases.
CRARR and other stakeholders will host a panel discussion at Concordia on sexual violence and discrimination next semester with speakers from Ontario and Quebec.
The Quebec Government's Plan of Action against Intimidation: https://www.mfa.gouv.qc.ca/fr/intimidation/Pages/index.aspx
Concordia University Sexual Assault Working Group Report: http://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/concordia/now/docs/FINAL-en-report-s...
Dalhousie University Report From the Restorative Justice Process:
University of Ottawa Report of the Task Force on Respect and Equality: