A case involving three McGill student athletes charged with sexual assault 15 months ago has drawn attention to the process by which McGill deals with the conduct of its students.
On Nov. 1, the Montreal Gazette reported that three current McGill students on the Redmen football team were arrested on April 26, 2012 for charges of sexual assault with a weapon and forcible confinement in an incident involving a former Concordia student. The students, now fourth-years, will appear in court next month for their preliminary hearing.
According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, the students told their coach that they were facing legal action following their arrest in April 2012. The coach advised them to inform their parents of the situation and to seek legal counsel.
The athletes continued to play for the squad in the following two seasons (2012 and 2013). Dyens said the students did not explain their charges in detail to the coach.
“If the students had said [they were] under criminal charges […] I think we [would have had] to at least look into it,” he said. “But we have to move carefully with these things because you don’t want to affect the inquiry from the police.”
According to Dyens, the university was informed of the criminal charges in May 2013. Dyens, who officially began his term in September 2013, learned about the case from his predecessor, Morton Mendelson. By this time, the case had already become a criminal investigation handled within the judicial system.
“There was nothing for us to move forward with,” Dyens said. “We have to respect the process. If we start doing our own investigation—asking people questions and everything—we might make it difficult […] for both the prosecutor and the defence lawyers; so we have to be really careful.”
He explained that all students are evaluated under the Green Book—the Code of Student Conduct. If there is an allegation that a violation of the Code has occurred, a disciplinary officer for the unit—in this case McGill Athletics—can impose a sanction or refer the issue to the Committee on Student Discipline.
Dyens added that McGill could not administer the Code of Student Conduct in this case because the alleged misconduct did not occur on campus or during McGill-related activities.
“If I see you doing something illegal—for example in a bar somewhere on St. Laurent Boulevard—and it’s not on the campus and it’s not part of the McGill context, you’re not breaking the McGill Code of Rights and Responsibilities,” Dyens said. “At that point, it’s the responsibility of the court or the police.”
In addition to the Code, varsity athletes are subject to another code of conduct titled the Guide to Varsity Sports for Student-Athletes. This document outlines provisions on McGill’s anti-doping policy, prohibits hazing, and forbids alcohol consumption on team trips, among other restrictions.
“It is considered a privilege and not a right to be a student-athlete, and every student-athlete is expected to conduct himself or herself in a manner that exhibits honour and respect to the team, department, university, and surrounding community for the duration of his or her tenure as a student-athlete at McGill University,” the guide reads.
The athletics disciplinary officer can establish administrative sanctions when the rules in the Guide are violated. According to Dyens, these administrative sanctions could include a suspension from playing on the team.
However, the Guide does not address criminal charges, such as charges of sexual assault.
“You don’t need to put [sexual assault] in a document like this because it’s against the law,” Dyens explained.
Other universities, such as Bishop’s University and the University of Winnipeg, have codes of conduct that athletes must sign. These documents outline the athletic department’s response to criminal behaviour committed by student athletes.
“I will refrain from any involvement in any criminal activity, on or off of campus,” the Bishop’s code reads. “I realize that my failure to abide by the standards described above may result in a temporary or permanent loss of the privilege of representing Bishop’s University as a student-athlete.”
Dyens noted that all McGill staff and students have a duty to report student misconduct once they are aware of it.
“Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that the Code of Rights and Responsibilities is respected,” he said. “This being said, you have to be careful, because the Code […] says [misconduct] has to happen […] either on the McGill campus or in the McGill context.”
The university will decide whether the students will face charges under the Student Code of Conduct following the outcome of the judicial process.
Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation, Drew Love; Associate Director of Athletics and Recreation and Athletics Disciplinary Officer, Philip Quintal; and Redmen football Head Coach, Clint Uttley referred the Tribune to Dyens for comment.
—Additional reporting by Erica Friesen