uOttawa to create task force in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

University of Ottawa President Allan Rock is creating a task force on respect and equality following recent allegations of sexual misconduct at the institution.

Rock is adamant that the uOttawa campus is safe for both students and faculty, but he noted they can look at ways to improve their practices and policies.

"As appalling as the events and allegations of [these] last two weeks have been, they've also been a catalyst for frank discussion about attitudes and behaviour and an opportunity for us to take some fearless inventory of our practices and our assumptions," Rock said at a Thursday morning news conference at the university.

He said the new task force will clearly state what principles of conduct the university values and promotes sanctions for this kind of behaviour in the future. It can also determine sanctions for students and staff who advocate conduct that threatens others, including in a sexual context.

Over the weekend, an online conversation featuring sexually graphic comments about the student union's president, Anne-Marie Roy, were made public; the next day, the university announced it had suspended its men's hockey team indefinitely following allegations of "serious misconduct."

Police in Thunder Bay are leading an investigation into an alleged sexual assault said to have taken place over the February 1st weekend - that's when the Gee Gees were in town to play the Lakehead Thunderwolves.

No academic sanctions have been taken against the students involved in the recent scandals; Thunder Bay police continue their investigation into several members of the Gee-Gees squad.

"If your question is have their been any academic sanctions against these students, the answer is no,'' Rock said. "The hockey players remain students at the University of Ottawa. During the time when the allegations are still pending, they're going to classes, they are still registered students.''

University of Ottawa Chancellor, the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean said these incidents are just the tip of a systemic iceberg, and the task force is key to change.

"We think that the disease needs to be curbed, then cured," said the former Governor General of Canada. "That is why we need each other. It takes a collective approach, it takes a task force for a collective solution to rid our community, to rid humanity from its heritage of violence and every step of the way we can do something. It is not a concern for women only, it is not a concern for our university only, for our campus, nor is it just another woman issue. It is a broader societal issue."

Not all student groups were pleased with the university's decision.

"I would have liked the university to address the issue," said Isabelle Hetu, the president of CUPE 2626. "I would have liked the president of the university to recognize the rape culture that exists on campus. Whether we have great values on paper, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist on the very basics on campus."

She suggested it be mandatory for all students to take a course on harassment and discrimination.

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