UBC responds to reports of mishandled sexual assault and human rights complaint

Once more in an already-controversy laden year, all eyes are on UBC as CBC releases their full investigation into the way the administration handled multiple instances of sexual misconduct by the same PhD student, Dmitry Mordvinov.

In the wake of the CBC’s reporting, interim President Martha Piper issued an apology to the women who Mordvinov assaulted. Piper noted that she appreciates “the light the women have shone on this issue, and I want to make a pledge. We will begin a discussion with our students, faculty and staff on a separate sexual assault policy.”

Despite Piper’s statement, Glynnis Kirchmeier — one of the women who made a report to UBC regarding the inappropriate behaviour directed at her by Mordvinov — announced in a press conference on Sunday that she would be filing a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal against the university, for their handling of the reported incident.

According to Kirchmeier, she brought concerns about Mordvinov to the history department in January of 2014 for behaviours she had witnessed as far back as 2011.

However, Mordvinov was only expelled last week.

“UBC has a legal duty to provide a harassment-free environment. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that there’s a legal duty to warn potential victims, and UBC has a legal duty to report their knowledge to the police,” said Kirchmeier at the press conference. “In my well-documented experience of 22 months of speaking to 10 employees from four offices within the university, UBC administrators utterly ignored these ethical and legal duties.”

According to CBC, at least two accusations surfaced in 2014 against Mordvinov. It is unclear whether one of these was referenced by Kirchmeier in the press conference.

Although Piper remained adamant in the last meeting of the UBC Senate that sexual assault will not be tolerated on this campus, a statement issued by UBC spokesperson Susan Danard also noted “we can do better and we will do better.”

“While the university had to wait until it had the necessary facts to take action, I acknowledge that the process took too long,” wrote Piper in a statement on the university’s website, which was then circulated in a broadcast email to the entire UBC community the night that the documentary was set to air.

Despite these admissions, Kimberley Beck, legal counsel at the Office of the University Counsel, said that she believes in the university’s reporting process already in place for victims of assault.

“I think the people who go through our process are generally satisfied with the care and attention ... that the committee gives to them,” said Beck, speaking of the nonacademic misconduct committee that deals with reports of sexual assault when they've been made internally. The process uses a structure of investigating in which both victim and perpetrator are asked questions by the committee.

“In cases of sexual assault ... if they wish not to be seen by the alleged perpetrator, we can put up screens we can make other arrangements. We can do it by video conferencing,” said Beck.

The committee is made up of a group of selected students. According to Ashley Bentley of the AMS’s Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), many survivors may not wish to report in this way because it involves disclosure to a group of students.

Bentley also noted that a lack of a single policy on sexual assault can be problematic. Currently, the university relies on Policy 3 which relates to harassment and discrimination. According to a board document, the office received 273 files and only six were referred for formal investigation under Policy 3 over the last 18 months.

In addition, certain survivors have said they felt actively silenced by the university.

“I have been asked to share the experience of one current student not in the Faculty of Arts. She told me that she reported an abusive colleague to the equity office a year and a half ago, and they gave her a … “gag-order” — her words,” said Kirchmeier.

As a result of the slow process it took to expel Mordvinov, Kirchmeier will file a complaint with the BC Humans Rights Tribunal and UBC will have to face the consequences.

“Now the lights are turned on and the university is going to be tried in the court of public opinion. Then it is going to answer to the BC Human Rights Tribunal and I suspect it will be tried in civil court as well. UBC did this to itself,” said Kirchmeier.

When asked where exactly Beck felt that the process of reporting and handling a sexual assault was weak, she spoke mainly of getting information to students about the options they have available to them after an assault.

“I think a place we could do better is getting information out to our community — particularly our students — about what’s out there for them, about the places they can go,” said Beck. “What we want to do is make sure that we are communicating clearly to our students what their resources are.”

Some have been calling for a policy review following the complaints against Mordvinov. When asked whether UBC's process for handling sexual assault will change in the future after these concerns about UBC's reporting process surfaced, Chad Hyson, associate director of student conduct and safety, said "we’re constantly taking in the feedback that we’ve received regarding our processes as any organization does." 

"We learn every time we have a hearing," said Hyson.

Chad Hyson, associate director of student conduct and safety (above).
Chad Hyson, associate director of student conduct and safety (above).

With files from Helen Zhou, Joshua Azizi, Sophie Sutcliffe, Danni Shanel and Sruthi Tadepalli.

This story was updated on November 24 with comments from Chad Hyson.