McGill, News

Cracking the code

For the first time since 2013, McGill’s Code of Student Conduct is set to be revised. Proposed changes include expanding the formal definition of the ‘university context‘ which sets the code’s jurisdiction, removing intent as a requirement for charges of harassment and unnecessary endangerment, and expanding powers for disciplinary officers to issue Orders of Exclusion from campus.

The Office of the Dean of Students is responsible for the change, in coordination with a working group of over 40 representatives from student groups, faculty, and staff, which has been advising the office since Spring 2018. The group includes representatives from the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), McGill’s Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (O-SVRSE), the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM), and last year’s Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice President (VP) University Affairs, Isabelle Oke.

On Nov. 8 and 9, Dean of Students Christopher Buddle held two open consultations at his office, giving students a chance to voice their opinions on the changes. No students attended the first consultation.

“We’ve received almost no comments from our online form, which suggests people either aren’t interested, they’re pleased with what we’re doing, or […] they [don’t] care about it,” Buddle said. “We’ve been pretty vocal with consultations [….] It’s a hard time of year, though. I know that.”

According to Buddle, creating a written definition of the university context was one of the primary motivations for the revision process. In April 2017, The McGill Tribune published an article revealing that, in 2015, then-dean of students Andre Costopoulos did not bring disciplinary charges against Conrad Gaysford after he assaulted Kathryn Leci at a party in Montreal’s Milton-Parc neighbourhood. Although both were U3 students at McGill, Costopoulos argued that the events occurred outside the university context.

According to SSMU VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro, the university context was a significant point of discussion during stakeholder consultations.

“It’s something most students resonate with, the question of whether we’re focusing in on someone’s intent or the outcome and what someone experienced,” Shapiro said. “Hearing the other voices once [the proposed change] was raised, I don’t think there’s anything [to the issue that’s] more complex than that. It’s a question of what’s being prioritized by that word being there or not.”

Shapiro also highlighted plans for a guaranteed minimum amount of time for the accused to review evidence before a disciplinary interview occurs. The exact amount of time is still under debate.

“Time limits are important,” Shapiro said. “Anything that helps students’ expectations when they’re going into [the disciplinary] process [such as] understanding how long it’s is going to take [or] the minimum amount of time [for students to review evidence before disciplinary interviews is useful]. Anything that can give students clarity in what can be a bureaucratic and difficult procedure is important.”

The word ‘knowingly’ is struck from sections 10(b) and 10(d) in the proposed update, which would mean that the university no longer has to prove intent when finding a student responsible for endangering or harassing another student. The current section 10(b) prohibits students from creating conditions that jeopardize another person’s safety or well-being. Luke Walker, Residence Life Manager for New Residence Hall, pursues complaints under these sections the most often.

“That’s the article of the code that applies to smoking in residence,” Walker said. “For a repeat offender, that would be where we would go.”

According to Walker, disciplinary officers will still take intent into account, even though it doesn’t need to be proved.

“The definition of ‘knowingly’ is far more complex than the definition that’s provided [in the Code],” Walker said. “Even though it’s crossed out now, especially since residence is supposed to be a developmental thing for a lot of students […] that’s something that I think that [disciplinary officers], at least in residence, have to take into consideration, that these are members of the community.”

The McGill Senate plans to review the proposed changes on Nov. 21, with a final vote scheduled for Dec. 5. Feedback can be directed to the Office of the Dean of Students.

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