Incomplete athletics policies leave room for inaction

Last Friday, the Montreal Gazette reported on a 2011 incident in which three McGill students were accused of an alleged sexual assault on a former Concordia student. The three men—who were arrested in April 2012—are McGill Redmen football players and have continued to play for the squad in the two seasons since their arrest. They are scheduled to appear before a Quebec court for a preliminary hearing next month.

Although the specifics of the incident will not be revealed until the trial unfolds, there are serious questions that need to be asked about how McGill  handled this incident over the past two years. (See: “McGill students’ criminal case draws attention to disciplinary procedures“) The limitations of the current institutional framework appear to be the main factor in McGill’s evasive response to the alleged incident, including the decision to allow these athletes to continue to play.

Currently, McGill student misconduct is assessed through the Code of Student Conduct, which determines academic sanctions for violations of rights and responsibilities.

McGill Athletics is another matter. The official rules governing varsity athletes do not extend far beyond the general Code of Conduct, aside from a few stipulations in the “Guide to Varsity Sports for Student-Athletes,” which seek to address issues including performance enhancing drugs, hazing, and conduct on the field.

McGill Athletics has a disciplinary officer who deals with athlete misconduct. Whether this person ever addressed this specific case remains unclear, but interviews suggest that, because the alleged incident did not occur on McGill campus or during McGill-related activities, it would not rest under the university’s jurisdiction to respond. Rather, the burden would fall on the police to investigate the situation.

We believe that this is a flawed system. Other universities, such as Bishop’s University and the University of Winnipeg, have provisions for their student athletes which stipulate that they will be held responsible for criminal misconduct regardless of whether it happens on or off campus or in university activities. Adopting such a measure would ensure that McGill has a framework to handle these situations and can hold students who represent the university to a higher standard. It would also bring the athletics program in line with the policies of many NCAA teams when their student athletes face arrest.

Apart from the framework, there are unofficial disciplinary measures available. Even if a player is on the roster, a program has no obligation to allow that student athlete to compete.  The football program should have acted on knowledge of the arrest and instituted administrative sanctions, suspending the players from any involvement on the team until the case was resolved. This is not a judgment on the innocence or guilt of the players; it serves as a demonstration that McGill Athletics takes criminal allegations very seriously.

Varsity athletes are chosen to represent McGill wherever they are, and as such, should be held to the highest standards of conduct. Regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial, the university’s inaction only contributes to the devastating culture of silence that survivors of sexual assault already face.

While there is still much to come to light here about the case, establishing measures for the future is one decisive step McGill can take.

McGill demonstrated its ability to amend its policies following a similar situation involving its student athletes, namely the football team hazing incident in 2005. In response to the controversy, McGill created new policies to maintain and promote the integrity of its athletics program. We believe that this is a valuable opportunity to do so once again.

 

4 Comments

  1. Elena Petrovic

    While undoubtedly this editorial was written with good intentions, it left a lot to be desired.

    First, let’s look at the Tribune’s plea for McGill Athletics’ code of conduct to be brought “in line with the policies of many NCAA teams”. The articles you liked to concerned 1) a robbery, and 2) a DUI. While granted, in both cases students were suspended after being charged for crimes, the nature of their crime was fundamentally different than the case at hand.

    Being caught red-handed after a robbery (or red-eyed behind the wheel) is not the same as a sexual assault case. In one, there is often substantive evidence, in the other (especially considering the events were reported months afterward), it is simply a case of one party’s word against the other’s

    That isn’t to say that corroborating evidence couldn’t be put forth to incriminate the men facing charges, but the nature of the crime ought to leave more room for reasonable doubt, however unpalatable the crimes of which they are accused.

    Within the article, when the following caveat is issued “This is not a judgment on the innocence or guilt of the players; it serves as a demonstration that McGill Athletics takes criminal allegations very seriously”, I hasten the Tribune to consider if the circumstances were different. Suppose the football players were charged last year under Bill 78, the law drawn up by the Quebec government to curb “illegal” protesting. Would the Tribune so quickly call upon McGill Athletics to suspend their players under such “serious” criminal allegations?

    I do not pretend to know the men facing charges, however it is tempting to succumb to the notion of implicit guilt, especially considering the accused fulfill the stereotype of the big scary football goons. However, we, as individuals, and McGill, as an institution must consider these issues thoughtfully–not hastily and with summary judgement. I am optimistic that these events will bring about a fruitful dialogue on campus about the troubles, particularly at universities, with “rape culture”. Condemning the (disgusting) nature of the crime should not be conflated with prejudicially condemning those who have not yet been convicted of the crime, which certain McGill students seem to have no qualms about doing (http://unionforgenderempowerment.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/fight-rape-culture-at-mcgill/). These are delicate issues to deal with, certainly, but we must be careful to avoid victim-blaming while also being considerate (albeit perhaps to a lesser degree) of ruining these men’s reputations before they face trial.

    • It can be hard to prove allegations of sexual assault, but there is no fundamental difference between these cases and robbery or DUI charges. The prosecutors have to meet the same burden of proof, and since they don’t want to put their resources towards cases they can’t win, the outcome is that fewer sexual assault cases are brought to trial in the first place. Why would it be fairer for McGill Athletics — a third party without access to all the evidence — to try to draw its own judgments instead of creating consistent policies about how to respond to charges that are credible enough to make it to trial?

      Administrative sanctions are an imperfect but balanced response. It really would be a prejudicial condemnation to to expel the students before trial, but by doing nothing McGill Athletics has inevitably sent the message that the allegations are not being taken seriously. This is why, as the editorial argues, the McGill community should put policies in place to respond to criminal charges in the future. You suggest that some crimes aren’t serious enough to warrant suspension, but since you agree that sexual assault is a serious crime that has nothing to do with the case at hand.

  2. Before you call for such actions, I strongly recommend you read what happened when another school did exactly the same thing, and consider what could happen.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_lacrosse_case

    I don’t mean to say that the former Concordia student falsely accused the football players, but is an outcome like this really worth if it she did when compared to the benefit of suspending the players?

  3. Pingback: McGill must deliver on proposed sexual assault measures | McGill Tribune

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