This article contains mention of sexual assault.
UBC Okanagan (UBCO) has been ordered to pay Stephanie Hale, a former student, $50,000 for discriminating against her based on sex and disability following its handling of her allegation of sexual assault by another student in 2013.
She was also awarded nearly $15,000 in expenses and lost wages.
The BC Human Rights Tribunal’s 132-page decision said UBC’s method of investigating sexual assault through its non-academic misconduct process exacerbated the symptoms of Hale’s PTSD and caused her harm “to the point that she could no longer participate” in the process.
Hale filed a complaint to the tribunal in 2017 over UBCO’s handling of her sexual assault case. In 2019, UBC lawyers tried to quash the tribunal's decision to hear the case, but failed. The tribunal said UBC had a responsibility as a service provider to assist Hale.
Hale’s legal counsel argued UBCO discriminated against her on the basis of sex, physical disability and mental disability.
Hale disclosed the alleged assault to UBCO staff, but said she wasn’t informed of how to file a complaint through the non-academic misconduct (NAM) process until she learned about it from the Equity and Inclusion Office in 2016.
Her complaint was taken through the NAM process in 2016, and her alleged respondent received no punishment and the case was dismissed for insufficient evidence in early 2017.
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Tribunal says discrimination was ‘very serious’
Hale said once the decision was public, a flood of messages and support from other women filled her inbox, many of whom have been following her case for years.
“We finally did it. We're all here and it's really exciting,” said Hale.
Hale first filed the human rights complaint in 2017 after being assaulted in 2013. She said she disclosed the assault to UBCO staff but she wasn’t informed on how to report the misconduct until 2016.
The decision, dated August 29, said the discrimination was “very serious” and UBC downplayed and ignored Hale’s “legitimate concerns.” The decision further said there was a power imbalance between UBC and Hale, exacerbating the impact of the discrimination.
The human rights tribunal said UBC “knew that many felt the NAM process was ill-suited for allegations of sexual violence and was inconsistent with the University’s commitment to supporting survivors in a trauma-informed process.” It also said UBC’s “process for addressing the assault was unclear and confusing.”
Further, the tribunal said two days before the 2016 NAM hearing was scheduled to begin, Hale did not receive information from UBC about the hearing location, the schedule for the day, if observers would be present, the documents the committee would have during the hearing and why she could not have help when representing herself.
“The information given to Ms. Hale was incomplete, at times inaccurate, and she was required to undertake significant effort on her own to obtain much of it,” read the decision. The decision said this was not reasonable given what UBC knew about “the needs of survivors.”
At the time, UBC’s standalone sexual misconduct policy — SC17, formerly called Policy 131 — didn’t exist, forcing sexual misconduct cases to be handled through the non-academic misconduct policy.
Matthew Ramsey, UBC director of university affairs, said UBC has taken “crucial steps” since 2017 to provide prevention services through UBC’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) and to create “an investigative framework to address allegations of sexual misconduct.”
Ramsey also noted the creation of UBC’s sexual misconduct policy and the establishment of the SVPRO, Investigations Office (IO) and Respondents Resource Office.
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“UBC’s creation of the Sexual Misconduct Policy also met the requirements of then new provincial legislation that came into effect at that time (the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act),” wrote Ramsey in a statement to The Ubyssey.
The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act requires BC post-secondary institutions to establish and implement sexual misconduct policies.
While this case is closed, Hale’s focus is now shifting toward the decision’s impacts.
“I have to still deal with the financial repercussions of this decision in my life,” said Hale. “I'll be in debt for years.”
Hale said the goal of the tribunal’s remedies is to return a person to the state they were in, had the discrimination not happened. But Hale still has debt in the six-figures from the hearing.
“Going forward in my life, I'm not actually in a place where this discrimination has not occurred,” said Hale. “I'm still not where I'd like to be.”
Hale went public with her experiences, not because she necessarily wanted to, but to avoid the public suspicion that sometimes follows anonymity.
“I felt like not attaching my name would lend others to believe that I was fearful, that I didn't believe my own story,” said Hale. “And so I think attaching my name to it removes those things.”
Hale is also part of Kirchmeier v. UBC, an ongoing class status human rights tribunal case alleging UBC discriminated against her and other complainants in its handling of sexual misconduct reports. Glynnis Kirchmeier filed the complaint in March 2016.
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“It’s really unfortunate to have these issues in societies and then the way that we make them better, doesn't actually make them better,” said Hale about her experience navigating the reporting process. “It kind of makes them worse, and I find that to be really unfortunate.”
“I hope that precedent makes it easier for students in the future.”