Dalhousie Dentistry program grapples with privacy verses sexual harassment
A prestigious Canadian University is in the grips of a media firestorm, scrutinized for its handling of the insensitive and hateful comments of a group of students. What is going on at Dalhousie University, and what is at stake?
On December 15, 2014, it was revealed that 13 male dentistry students at Dalhousie University were members of a Facebook group (DDS 2015 Gentleman’s Club). Posts on this group apparently targeted female colleagues with sexually explicit and hateful comments.
The comments, which were reported by CBC after viewing screen grabs of the site, included statements about female dental students they would like to “hate f_ _k”, and jokes about the use of chloroform on them.
Ryan Millet, one of the 13 male students listed on the Facebook page, revealed that he brought the comments to the attention of one of the targeted female colleagues. She, in turn, reported the events to University Administration.
What Are the Issues?
- How does a University, or other organization, best investigate allegations of harassment?
- In the case of an on-line “group”, how do you determine guilt, or innocence? What is due process?
- What are appropriate channels for applying consequences to alleged offenders?
- What are reasonable consequences for harassment behaviour?
- How do you balance the rights of victims and offenders in harassment cases?
- Where is the line between free speech and harassment?
- When is sexual harassment a criminal offense?
- Does a professional regulating body have the right to request identifying information about University students?
- Do the alleged victims and offenders have the right to remain anonymous?
- How do you balance a right to privacy with freedom of information?
What Were The Consequences So Far?
- The Facebook page was removed.
- The University postponed 4th year dental exams to January, 2015.
- The University closed its dental clinic early.
- The 13 male students listed on the Facebook site were stripped of their clinic privileges. This puts their graduation at risk, since it is one of the requirements for their graduation.
- The 13 Facebook members were segregated from the rest of their classmates, and ordered to study elsewhere and attend class remotely.
- University President, Richard Florizone, announced that-in response to complaints under the school’s sexual harrassment policy- Dalhousie would initiate a Restorative Justice Program for the women affected by the incident(s) and the majority of the men involved in the offensive group.
- President Florizone also announced the creation of a task force to investigate the incident in the school’s faculty of Dentistry.
- Dalhousie announced that it was launching a “strategic initiative” on diversity and inclusiveness.
- Police reviewed the Facebook material and determined that there would not be a criminal investigation.
- The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario requested that Dalhousie provide them with the names of the 13 male students involved in the scandal. The University declined this request.
- Ryan Millet, the only involved student who has made his identity known, reportedly sent a letter of apology to the affected colleagues. He opted to attend a University Disciplinary Hearing on January 20, rather than attend the Restorative Justice program.
It has been 5 weeks since this story first made national news. The University’s first reactions to the story appeared alarming and reactive, possibly in reaction to other recent news stories such as the CBC/Gomeshi affair (read more at https://www.butterfieldlaw.ca/ghomeshi-allegations-trigger-nationwide-probe-into-sexual-harassment/.)
Millet’s lawyers, Bruce and Sarah MacIntosh, say that he has been unfairly targeted and objected to the hearing being held “in camera”, which meant that media was not allowed to attend (CBC, January 21, 2015).
They also noted that it was 6 Facebook posts that formed the basis of Millet’s suspension, and that he was only involved in 1 of these. On that occasion, Millet “liked” a photo of a woman sitting on steps which had a sign under it saying “public entrance.”
Bruce MacIntosh stated: “There are important issues of both credibility and influence, or undue influence that we wish to explore at this hearing as to what led to the circumstances where everybody was thrown into the same pot together without any investigation other than the mere existence of the Facebook, suspended with consequences that are extraordinary.”
The 4 1/2 hour hearing was adjourned.
Jayne Embree, M.A.
Jayne holds a Masters in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. Currently on sabbatical, Jayne is conducting research in the area of family dynamics and parental conflict.
Areas of Practice: Family law including separation, divorce, mediation, arbitration, child & spousal support, support variations, guardianship, parenting time, access, property division and more. Victoria BC