HOW TO RESPOND TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT INVESTIGATIONS ON CAMPUS
Colleges and Universities all over Ontario are in the practice of publishing a Code of Conduct for students at their particular institution. These institutions Code’s will generally apply to all students enrolled in classes at that particular institution and outline the standard of conduct for students both while physically on campus and while carrying out any matters associated with the school. A Student Code of Conduct functions as legislation applicable only to that school and allows the institution to dictate what is appropriate behaviour on campus and what is not. Generally, a Code will include a list of offences that may be committed by students with an explanation what each of these offences entails. Additionally, an institutions Student Code of Conduct will outline various processes and procedures that have been put in place to process, investigate, and adjudicate various complaints that come to their attention. Finally, an institutions Student Code of Conduct will stipulate the various penalties associated with a finding of guilt by the institution.
The Firm frequently defends university students across Ontario facing allegations of sexual misconduct on and off school campus. Universities will almost always retain external investigators and lawyers who will act on their behalf. Many of our clients feel they have been falsely accused and been judged and/or reprimanded without any chance to defend themselves. The Firm defends these allegations all across Ontario, including high-profile sexual assault investigations at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, University of Waterloo and York University among others.
While each institution of higher education is free to draft their Student Code of Conduct however they wish, generally, institutions include the same general offences in their list of prohibited behaviour. Virtually every Student Code of Conduct in Ontario will contain provisions relating to acts of physical violence against other persons. Specifically, students are prohibited from physically assaulting or threatening another person, sexually assaulting or harassing another person or physically damaging another person’s personal property. The majority of institutions also include provisions relating to disruption on campus. Students who cause a disruption to the natural functioning of the institution will be found in violation of their Student Code of Conduct. Likewise, provisions related to the physical destruction of school property are common. Any student found to have caused damage to any part of the institution’s property (moveable or immoveable) will have violated the institutions Student Code of Conduct.
Many schools also include provisions related to the unauthorized entry into school premises, or unauthorized use of the institution’s facilities, equipment or services. Finally, many schools include provisions related to making vexatious false accusations against another individual on campus, aiding or abetting another student to commit an offence, failure to comply with sanctions laid out in an institution’s Student Code of Conduct and unauthorized use or possession of a firearm or ammunition on school premises.
Processes and Procedures to Determine Violation has Occurred
Each college or university is free to implement their own specific processes and procedures for investigating and prosecuting students for violating the schools Code of Conduct. Though these procedures will vary from school to school, the basic processes are generally quite similar. A college or university may become aware of a possible violation in a number of ways. Another member of the campus community may make a formal complaint in writing against the student, the school may become aware of a violation through a member of the teaching staff, or they may uncover the alleged violation through an investigation of their own. Regardless of how the alleged violation is discovered, the institution will be responsible for investigating it further.
Colleges and universities generally appoint members to their Investigative Department. These investigators will generally possess specific qualifications, experience and skills which make them competent in such a role. When a potential violation of the schools Code of Conduct is believed to have occurred, the school will generally appoint an investigator to look into the matter. The impugned student will also generally be notified that an investigation has been launched into their conduct on campus. Once an investigation is complete, an investigator will generally create a detailed report of their findings, which will then be passed along to the appropriate department within the institution. A decision will then be made as to whether or not the student is guilty of violating the school’s Student Code of Conduct. Where it is determined that no violation has occurred, the file will be closed, and no further action will be taken against the student. Where it is determined that the student has violated the Code, the institution will determine how to proceed.
In some serious cases, the appropriate authority in the institution may impose interim conditions on the impugned student. These conditions will only be appropriate in the most serious cases, where there is a significant threat to the safety of other individuals on campus as a result of the impugned student’s behaviour. In these cases, conditions associated with the students right to enter school property and participate in school activities may be limited until either the investigation is complete, or the appropriate authority determines that the student no longer poses a threat. These types of interim conditions are not indicative of guilt, they are simply put in place to protect the campus community as a whole.
Generally, a college or university will have provisions in place allowing a student to appeal the college or university’s decision within a certain amount of time.
Possible Consequences of Violating a Student Code of Conduct
As mentioned above, each college and university in Ontario is free to implement their own Student Code of Conduct. This means that the types of penalties that may stem from a finding that a student has violated their Student Code of Conduct may vary from one school to another. That being said, there are many penalties which are common to most, if not all schools in Ontario. Some examples include; placing the student on probation for a period of time, denying the student access to certain services, facilities or activities on campus for a specified period of time, issuing the student a formal written reprimand, requiring the student pay for any damages they caused, fining the student or removing them from campus (suspension or expulsion).
A suspension or expulsion will be permanently recorded on the students’ academic record and academic transcripts. This could have serious implications on a student’s ability to be accepted into another college or university in the future.