Violence and Canadian Universities

Each year Maclean’s magazine publishes its rankings of Canadian universities. Their criteria for measuring excellence is largely based on test scores and funding capacities. Maclean’s never measures an academic institution’s record on safety and security. Issues of campus violence never enter into the equation. My question is, shouldn’t they? Isn’t the quality of life on campus equally important as the quality of education?

Listen to the following story and see if it sets off any alarms. In 1986, a female student is tortured, raped, sodomized and murdered in her dormitory room by a fellow student. The killer is a known substance abuser and gained access to the dormitory by proceeding, unopposed, through three propped-open doors. In the aftermath, school officials engage in a campaign of “callousness, cover-ups and stonewalling”. The institution calls the murder an “aberration” and, in an attempt to protect it’s image, produces a self-serving report concluding no negligence on the part of the school, and that all safety policies were complete. This, despite the school’s prior knowledge of violent crimes on campus and 181 formal complaints about propped-open doors.

Sound familiar? Indeed it does, up to this point; but then the story diverges. The victim is Jeanne Clery, an American student, and her parents, Connie and Howard Clery, sued Lehigh University in Pennsylvania for unilaterally absolving itself of blame in the young girl’s death. Less than two years later, Lehigh settled the suit – and they went one step further; they agreed to make material changes to security operations on campus. Rather than letting the situation fester, Lehigh became proponents for change. Lehigh now posts the campuses full crime statistics on their web site. Their campus security consists of sworn police officers. There is even access to a sex offender database online to see if any faculty or staff have been guilty of sex crimes in the past. Lehigh went from being goats to becoming leaders in student safety and security. Not that they had any choice in the matter. Much of this change was forced on them through acts of legislation, spearheaded by the Clerys.

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Jeanne Clery Act, the first in several pieces of Federal legislation designed to protect student interests in security and safety. The Jeanne Clery Act – also known as the Campus Security Act – requires all American universities to disclose annual information about campus crime and security policies; including three years worth of crime statistics, sexual assault policies, and the law enforcement authority of campus police. The information must be disclosed to both the students and the public. Violators can be fined up to $25,000. Subsequent Acts included the Buckley Amendment, making campus police records non confidential; A Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, forcing schools to have policies in place to address sexual assaults; The Foley Amendment, which forces schools to disclose information about any student found guilty of a crime of violence or sexual offence; An Amendment to the original Clery Act forcing schools to disclose off-campus, but campus related acts of aggression; and the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act, forcing schools to disclose information about employees who are registered sex offenders.

Statistics show that these measures are important and necessary. In 1987, the year after Jeanne Cleary was murdered there were 31 murders, 1,500 armed robberies, and 13,000 physical assaults reported on American college campuses nationwide. These are incidents reported even before legislation required these statistics to be disclosed. Recently, the U.S. House of representatives reported that thirty-eight percent of American college women questioned had either been raped or were victims of felony sexual assaults.

In Canada there is no Federal legislation to protect the rights of campus women. Canadian universities are not required to disclose campus crime statistics. Without statistics there is no criteria for evaluating one school’s safety record versus another. Without federal requirements, Canadian Universities are free to make up there own statistics. In the year 2000, the University of Toronto – with a bulging population of 69,000 students and staff – voluntarily recorded three robberies on all of its campuses. With no one watching them, how many crimes would you expect U of T to report?

It is an exercise in frustration trying to find uniform and measurable statistics on campus crimes at Canadian universities. When asked, several women’s rights organizations in Canada seemed perplexed that the question was even being asked. Why was this a priority? Some, like Educational Wife Assault in Toronto were surprised that there were no such data available. Others, like White Ribbon, felt confident that the Toronto Rape Crisis Center would have the information. They didn’t. And still others implied that they had the information, but wouldn’t release it for “political” reasons. In a request to the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, the Shelter accidentally forwarded an email to me that was intended for a supervisor. It referred to me as “that guy whose sister went missing”, and read, “Let me know if you want me to respond to this man – I can send a response asking why he is particularly interested before we decide whether you should reply directly.” It’s been close to a year. I”m still waiting for their response.

Just as there is no Federal legislation – no Canadian campus security act – there are no uniform measures requiring Canadian Universities to establish like policies for security and safety specific to campus related issues. Universities are generally advised to follow the guidelines of the Federal or Provincial Charter of Rights – but these rules are too broad and don’t address specific issues relevant to student concerns.

Federal direction is desperately needed. A 1995 Ontario Women’s Directorate study showed that four out of five female undergraduates said they had been victims of violence in a dating relationship. In the same study on the subject of date rape, sixty percent of Canadian college-aged males indicated they would commit sexual assault if they knew they could get away with it.

Not that everything is rosy in the US. Many American universities fudge the numbers, or blatantly fail to accurately report campus crimes. In 1996, the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina in Lumberton bragged to the press that there had been no crime on his campus for three years. The director of Lumberton’s Rape Crisis Center soon set the record straight; there had been at least three rapes on campus – they had been reported to campus police and administrators, but mysteriously were dropped from UNC Lumberton’s annual statistics. In 1994 UNC Chapel Hill student, Wendell Williamson, went on a shooting rampage in downtown Chapel Hill, killing two people, one of them a UNC undergraduate. Many stray bullets crossed the street onto the UNC campus, but the shooting was dropped from statistics and no homicides were reported that year.

The enforcement wing of the American Campus Security Act, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), has also come under fire for failing to impose fines on schools that violate the Act. Under the intense scrutiny of several American watchdog groups, enforcement has been beefed up. In February 2003, two residence supervisors at Morehead State University in Kentucky were criminally charged for failing to report a gang rape in the campus dormitory. On March 5th, 2003 Security On Campus, Inc. called on the DOE to impose a $2.3 million fine on Salem International University for failure to report 84 serious campus crimes between 1997 and 1999. Currently there are legal actions pending for campus violations against 13 American Universities including Clemson, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California system.

Canadian universities have cited problems with the American Campus Crime Act as justification for not having similar requirements in Canada. “Crime statistics are very easy to toss around – but they don’t put into context the criminal behaviour.” Says Rosemary Gartner of the University of Toronto. Really. Three murders and six forcible rapes at the University of Arizona in 2002 – that is the only context I need to know that my children will not be attending college in that state. Similarly, Louise Fish, president of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators has stated that, “Universities are very autonomous. Any legislation like that erodes that autonomy”, as if autonomy was the benchmark for academic excellence. But, should universities be left to their own devices to make up their own rules? There is a stewardship implicit in the relationship between parent and student, and scholastic institution. In order to gain the public’s trust, institutions should at the least be expected to follow a set of guidelines and measures that can assure us that they are capable of performing their fiduciary obligations.

If Canada had a campus crime act, Champlain College in Lennoxville, Quebec would have been forced to disclose the two severe assaults that happened on campus in 2001. Because there are no such requirements, only lawyers and administrators were aware of these two incidents; one of which involved a female student who was allegedly hit on the back of the head by an assailant with a shovel while two teachers sat passively sipping coffee in a nearby office.

Some Canadian schools do better than others. The University of Toronto, the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia manage to post some crime stats on their websites. Similar to Lehigh, UBC has an RCMP detachment on their main campus.

In the spring of 1979, when my sister’s body turned up within a mile of the Compton residence in the Quebec Eastern Townships, School administrators defended themselves claiming there was no history of violence in the area to prepare themselves for such an event. The facts clearly demonstrate that this wasn’t true; there had been a pattern of violence for years. What would administrators say today? To be sure, most students – for that matter, most Canadians – are unaware of the 2001 murder of Julie Boisvenu in Sherbrooke, or the disappearance of Julie Bureau from nearby Coaticook in 2000. Students rarely read local newspapers such as the Sherbrooke Record or La Tribune. They are unaware of the 56-year-old repeat offender arrested 40 miles away in Granby for sexually assaulting a victim at gunpoint. They probably have little knowledge of the man from nearby Magog who was arrested for sexually assaulting his daughter who was dying of cancer, or of the 50-year-old man apprehended nextdoor in Sherbrooke for sexually molesting an eight-year-old victim, or of the teacher from Thetford Mines arrested for fondling fourteen-year-old students. With so much violence again on the radar screen, what are school officials doing to prepare students for a tragedy comparable to the events of 1978?

The latest statistics on campus crime show that violent crime is on the rise in universities across America. Between 1999 and 2000 the number of murders on campus nearly doubled from 11 to 20 reported incidents. Experts believe the increases have less to do with worsening crime, and may be attributed to better reporting and tougher enforcement on campuses. Without a system in place, there is no way of knowing whether a similar trend may be taking place in Canada. Most likely the Canadian trend is similar. Crime statistics in Canada tend to mirror those in the States, though with allowances being taken for economies of scale.

Recently, I voiced some of these concerns to a victims advocate in Ottawa. There response was, how do you know there’s campus violence problem in Canada? Well, if no one’s monitoring the situation, how do you know there isn’t? Can we afford not to know? I would find it relieving if someone would tell me which Universities are the safest in Canada, and which need improvement. Perhaps for their 2004 Fall report Maclean’s might want to start reviewing some university safety audits and report back on who’s making the grade with campus security at Canadian universities.


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