A former VIU staff member lodged a human rights complaint against the university, alleging female staff members and students were placed at risk of sexual harassment by a male student.
According to an article Monday in the Globe and Mail, female staff and students were sexually harassed by a male student whose “fetishistic behaviour in and out of the classroom” included role-playing that he was an infant, wearing a soother and talking like a baby.
The article identifies the complainant as Katrin Roth, former director of human rights and respectful workplace at Vancouver Island University.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal did not allow a complaint from “K.R.” to proceed this summer, but she was given additional time to amend her complaint, according to a screening decision written by Diana Juricevic, tribunal chairwoman.
According to the decision, the complainant said she became aware in November 2016 that the harassment had been taking place over a two-year period.
“She describes that conduct as: sending sexually suggestive photos to women, writing in an ‘explicit, sexually exhibitionistic manner,’ following women to isolated areas, asking women out on dates repeatedly, leering and staring at women, and making women feel unsafe,” the decision noted. “She says there were instances where the student ‘pretended to seek routine services but then proceeded to surprise and involve non-consenting women in sexually arousing fantasies and role plays.’”
Juricevic wrote that the central allegations of K.R.’s complaint are that the university “failed to undertake a prompt, thorough and fair investigation or to follow its human rights and prevention of harassment policies and procedures,” but noted that the complaint “does not allege sufficient facts” and isn’t specific enough in identifying the women whose human rights are alleged to have been violated.
VIU responded to the Globe article on Monday with a statement released on behalf of Ralph Nilson, university president.
“We are … confident the university took appropriate and reasonable actions to respond to concerns that were raised and to protect the safety and well-being of our campus community,” Nilson wrote. “This matter was carefully and thoughtfully investigated by an experienced and legally trained external investigator who determined that actions of the university were reasonable.”
Nilson’s statement went on to disagree with Roth’s allegations as reported in the Globe article, saying that “due to privacy law, Ms. Roth has not been privy to all of the complexities at issue in this case, nor is she aware of all of the steps that were taken to investigate and respond to these concerns.”
Roth’s employment at the university was terminated in January 2017.
Melissa Stephens, the VIU Faculty Association’s status of women representative, wrote and released a statement Monday on social media condemning all forms of harassment.
“At a time when women, in particular, are speaking out against sexual violence and receiving backlash from people who question their credibility, VIUFA recognizes the personal and professional risks that survivors take when disclosing or reporting such information,” she wrote. “Our faculty should expect and promote a workplace culture in which survivors can be heard and believed … It is never acceptable to enable others to commit acts of sexual harassment in the workplace or elsewhere.”