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UBC alumna files human rights complaint over response to sex assault reports

FILE PHOTO - Former University of British Columbia students Glynnis Kirchmeier and Caitlin Cunningham, back, hold a news conference at the university in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday, November 22, 2015. Kirchmeier has filed a human rights complaint alleging the school discriminated against her and other complainants in its handling of sexual assault reports.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
April 01, 2016 - 9:30 AM

VANCOUVER - A former University of British Columbia student has filed a complaint with the province's human rights tribunal alleging the school discriminated against her and other complainants in its handling of sexual assault and harassment reports.

Glynnis Kirchmeier asserts in the document that the university didn't accept and act on numerous complaints about a male PhD student over long periods of time, resulting in more women becoming the victims of sexual violence.

"The system is broken," Kirchmeier said in an interview. "There's no way that anyone can ask the university for help with their safety and have the university listen to them and respond."

None of the allegations has been proven. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal said it does not confirm complaints that have been filed until hearings are scheduled, but Kirchmeier said it was filed recently as both an individual and representative complaint on behalf of other women affected by sexual violence on campus.

After Kirchmeier and others went public with the allegations in November, interim university president Martha Piper apologized and promised to create a stand-alone sexual assault policy. The school hired an external investigator who concluded there was a delayed response to the complaints due to an unclear reporting process.

Sara-Jane Finlay, the university's associate vice-president of equity and inclusion, said in a statement that the university will respond to the tribunal once it is formally notified of the complaint. A draft of the new sexual assault policy will be ready in June with final approval in the early fall, she added.

"Sexual assault and sexual harassment are unacceptable and are not tolerated at UBC," she said.

The complaint says the first report to the university about the PhD student was made in January 2012 about aggressive behaviour. The document says the PhD student allegedly went on to commit a number of sexual assaults.

The man accused in the documents is not a respondent in the complaint and has not been criminally charged. The Canadian Press has not been able to reach him for comment.

Kirchmeier, who says she witnessed inappropriate behaviour but was not assaulted, alerted the university in January 2014 about what she had seen and was repeatedly dissuaded from filing a formal complaint because she had graduated and was not herself a victim, the complaint states.

When Caitlin Cunningham reported her claim of assault to the university in July 2014, it was not acted upon for months, apparently due to a misunderstanding about whether she had filed an informal or formal complaint, the documents say.

Ultimately, no action was taken against the PhD student until May 2015 when he was restricted from campus, the complaint says.

Cunningham, who has consented to having her name made public, says she was told in November last year that he was no longer a student. The complainants only learned the man had been expelled through media reports, the human rights complaint says.

Kirchmeier is seeking a declaration that the university discriminated against her and the group, as well as damages for injury to dignity. She said the school's new sexual assault policy must remedy the concerns raised by her and others.

"What I hope to achieve by this complaint is to push as hard as I can for the university to move in the direction that ... all women and all victims can pursue the life of the mind in a safe and discrimination-free environment," she said. "I really don't think that is too much to ask."

Kirchmeier provided a letter to The Canadian Press from the human rights tribunal to her lawyer acknowledging receipt of the complaint.

After a complaint is filed, the tribunal says on its website that it offers the parties a chance to resolve their issues through mediation. The school will also have an opportunity to respond to the complaint and can apply to dismiss it without a hearing.

The tribunal says it holds a hearing if the parties cannot resolve a complaint and it is not dismissed.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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