Pending human rights complaint for handling of sexual assault gains traction

Ramifications are still being felt from last month’s exposure of deep-seated issues within UBC’s method of handling sexual assault complaints.

Those consequences are taking the form of a BC Human Rights complaint filed by a UBC master's student, Glynnis Kirchmeier, who maintains that the university’s response to her report of concerning behaviour by the alleged assailant, Dmitry Mordvinov, was untimely and inappropriate.

Since Kirchmeier’s announcement in November of her intention to file a complaint, her case has been gaining traction. Fifteen individuals — including students, staff and faculty — have reached out to her in order to add their own experiences to the complaint.

“My complaint is going to centre on not [a] particular person who abused someone,” said Kirchmeier. “It’s going to be more along the lines of a harm of process, which is that I told UBC about this problem. In mishandling my report, they created harm.”

At a press conference in November Caitlin Cunningham, one of the survivors, was alongside Kirchmeier and called UBC’s process of responding to their complaints more traumatizing than her experience of assault itself.

Although Kirchmeier herself was not assaulted, she was involved in a support capacity as a graduate student in the history department at UBC during the same period as Cunningham and Mordvinov. Kirchmeier reported concerning behaviours exhibited by Mordvinov to the Equity and Inclusion Office in 2014. Mordvinov was then not expelled until 2015 — around the same time that the documentary aired — a decision he is now appealing, according to the CBC.

The complaint is still in the beginning stages. Clea Parfitt, Kirchmeier’s lawyer, said that they are still drafting the complaint. Once a draft is ready, it will be filed and the Tribunal will make a preliminary decision on whether to accept the complaint or not.

“The Tribunal can make a decision that discrimination has occurred. If it makes that decision, then it has the power to award monetary damages,” said Parfitt. “But as well, it can make orders about how things need to be in future.”

The Tribunal essentially assesses whether the problems that the complainant has submitted constitute a violation of the human rights code.

“Then it moves pretty quickly. The defendant gets some time to respond to the complaint and then the Tribunal wants everybody to go through a mediation process before they go to a hearing,” said Kirchmeier, noting that the latter is a more formal courtroom arrangement.

Whether UBC plans to mount a defence against the complaint remains unclear. According to Sarah-Jane Finlay, associate vice-president of the Equity and Inclusion Office at UBC, they will proceed based on what comes of the Tribunal, but have not heard anything as of yet.

Finlay, who has only been at the university since March, is unaware of what the 15 new experiences added to the complaint are. Some of those individuals are alumni who have disclosed to Kirchmeier issues with sexual assault at UBC and the university’s handling of it that date as far back as the 1990s.

What is known is that the complaint will not necessarily be directed at a particular party. Instead, it will deal more with UBC’s processes and procedures and hopefully lead to improvements in them.

“Our focus is on thinking about what would be a better set up,” said Parfitt, who noted that they will more likely ask for improvements to the process than monetary compensation. “How far the Tribunal will actually go in ordering that, I'm not sure — but part of what I think we're doing in terms of framing the complaint is saying, ‘Here’s what you should be doing.’”

The complaint has to be filed before March as the Tribunal has a six month time limit. Kirchmeier felt the need to file the complaint around September when she says she was excluded from the investigation process.

Although members of the administration at UBC — such as Finlay and Kimberley Beck, legal counsel at the Office of the University Counsel — continued to express their faith in the functionality of UBC’s reporting process after the CBC documentary aired, interim President Martha Piper acknowledged in an online statement that the process took too long.

Kirchmeier hopes that good will come out of filing the complaint since the result will be a permanent public record that may lead to greater accountability from the university.

"Anything that helps us understand more about the best practices around dealing with sexual assault, supporting survivors and providing them with the appropriate resources … is important to us,” said Finlay. “I’m particularly excited that there is such engagement across the campus around these issues and desire to discuss them.”