On Feb. 21, the Community Disclosure Network (CDN), a group of sexual assault survivors and allies, released a statement calling for David Aird’s resignation from his position as Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External. The CDN wrote that Aird had committed gendered and sexualized violence–based on testimonies from survivors–and called for SSMU to undertake a number of supportive initiatives to address future cases. Aird stepped down on Feb. 22 and issued an apology for his behaviour on Feb. 23, although the apology was removed when he deleted his Facebook account. Aird declined to comment.
The members of CDN came together to protect their anonymity and to provide a collective response to several incidents in which Aird allegedly committed inappropriate acts. CDN published an anonymous form on Feb. 9 in order to collect disclosures while preserving survivors’ privacy.
“CDN was formed when a small group of allies and survivors realized that there was a long history of disturbing behaviour [by Aird] beyond what they had experienced/was disclosed to them,” the CDN wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “CDN began to try and find a way to, as a first step, remove Aird from his position at SSMU in a way that would not require one survivor to go through what, due to his position, would most likely become a very public process.”
CDN will continue its work after reading week with an open support group for anyone in Montreal who felt threatened by Aird.
SSMU President Ben Ger clarified at the SSMU Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 23 that SSMU executives were unaware of the severity of Aird’s behaviour. They had instituted educational check-in sessions for Aird to ensure he acted appropriately in a workplace environment after receiving complaints in the Fall about incidents when he made at least two women feel uncomfortable.
As VP External, Aird was tasked with managing student demonstrations on campus through various organizations, such as McGill Against Austerity (MAA). An anonymous member of MAA explained that several MAA members became aware of allegations of sexual assault in November 2016 and soon learned of similar cases in other student groups, including NDP McGill. They were unable to find a way to remove him from his SSMU position without disclosing the survivor’s identity, and so severed professional ties with Aird under the pretense of differences in politics.
NDP McGill along with the Jeunes néodémocrates du Québec (JNDP)–a youth organization that manages NDP chapters in universities across Quebec–first became aware of sexual harassment committed by Aird in October 2016. Aird had been elected VP Politics of JNDQ in the same month and, while they pressured him to resign by threatening to expose him, JNDQ executives were unable to revoke Aird’s status as a federal NDP card-holder without survivors having to give public testimonies. Like all card-holders, Aird is technically a member of NDP McGill, although Co-President Malaya Powers emphasized that he had stopped participating in events and was removed from all official methods of communication.
“It was just by default, he’s involved with NDP McGill because he’s a federal card-holding member,” Powers said. “[….] We resolved that if [Aird attended an event], we would ask him to leave at any club event he partook in, and also we just spread awareness amongst our members of his behaviour.”
Powers similarly had difficulty bringing awareness to the issue at McGill because she felt like she could not ensure the survivors’ anonymity when appealing to the SSMU Board of Directors.
JNDQ Co-President Kiana Saint-Macary explained how JNDQ addressed members’ reports.
“We didn’t want to go through any formal processes that would make the people who want to stay anonymous, basically, go on trial themselves because that happens so often with sexual harassment and sexual assault cases,” Saint-Macary, said. “And also we didn’t know the scope of it [….] I don’t think we realized that there was such a large movement of people until [CDN passed around the survey].”
The McGill Tribune met with a survivor who had several close encounters with Aird, which resulted in sexual harassment and coercive consent. Although she notified members of the student clubs she was involved in, public progress was only achieved when CDN released its statement.
“Seeing that there are so many testimonies […] is very empowering,” she said. “It tore me apart thinking that there are so many other women, […] but at the same time […] that means I can stop feeling so guilty about everything and stop feeling guilty of feeling guilty.”
She said that there are therapeutic benefits of voicing her trauma. Although she previously suppressed memories of the incidents, acknowledging the experience helped her dissociate from it.
“[Your] brain is like ‘You don’t want to have to deal with that, doesn’t exist,’” she said. “[But] the more [I] talk about it, the more it’s outside of me kind of [….]”
The survivor pondered how the responses to Aird’s behaviour will impact him and whether he grasps the full implications of his actions.
“There’s no way to make sure he feels sorry, not for himself, but really for us, and that he understands like how this goes way beyond just the event,” she said. “[….] It’s something you carry with you afterwards, and that I think shapes your identity.”