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.