Statement Regarding the Resignation of David Aird, VP External of SSMU

Content Warning. The following statement discusses instances of sexual violence committed by a person who occupies a position of relative power and authority within SSMU affiliated communities. Engaging with stories of sexual violence can have an impact. It can result in vicarious trauma, or trigger our own memories of sexual violence if we are survivors. We encourage you to take care of yourself as you choose how you want to engage with this statement. We acknowledge that it is often impossible to tell who has been exposed to sexual violence, and we recommend that you share this statement with discretion and care. Listed at the end of this statement are Montreal-based resources including crisis centres, active listening services, self-care material, and 24 hour support services.

A note on language: The language used throughout this statement mirrors language used by those whose disclosures we received, as well as language used within sexual assault activism. However, we want to honor that any and all language chosen by someone to define/label their experience of sexual violence, abuse, assault, and trauma is a valid and important choice.

This language acknowledgement was developed with reference to the zine CIRCLES: A Community Response and Resource.

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The Community Disclosure Network is a group of survivors and allies who have united to take action against David Aird, VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). The history of sexualized and gendered violence committed by Aird both before and during his time as VP External is long and varied and should be condemned unequivocally.

As a result of Community Disclosure Network activism, Aird has stepped down from his role as VP External. The following statement will offer context around this development, as well as address the structural improvements we would like to see within SSMU to ensure that there are binding pro-survivor frameworks in place to handle future disclosures.

Over the last few months the Community Disclosure Network has sought a removal process that was empowering and supportive for survivors. However, most existing avenues involved either contacting individual executives, required pre-established personal connections with those in positions of power within SSMU, or were unable to protect the anonymity of the survivor.

Finding these avenues to be insufficient and undesirable, we have chosen to address Aird’s decision to step down with a public statement. By addressing Aird’s behaviour in this way, we are reclaiming control of and naming a narrative that has for a long time been only shadowy speculation. Our hope in making this public statement alongside Aird’s resignation is that it will serve as an important step towards creating safe(r) communities. Our intent is not to devalue lived experiences of violence or abuse and the forms of healing or justice chosen by individuals affected by Aird’s actions. Similarly, our intent is not to expose either side to public shame. Simply, we feel it is important to hold Aird to account, to initiate a public dialogue around how to protect safe(r) spaces, and, above all, facilitate a healing process for those affected by Aird’s actions and involvement within SSMU affiliated communities.

The following outlines complaint processes undergone with SSMU against Aird during the 2016-2017 school year. Two student societies that Aird was involved in — McGill Against Austerity and NDP McGill — received complaints of sexual violence in October and December of 2016, respectively. Both societies discovered that they were unable to take formal action against Aird while respecting the survivors’ desire for anonymity. Additionally, during Aird’s time as VP External, students approached members of the SSMU executive with concerns about Aird’s behaviour and were disappointed by the response and courses of action presented by SSMU. The only action undertaken by SSMU in response to these students’ complaints was to establish weekly ‘check-ins’ between Aird and the President of SSMU.  While we want to give the benefit of the doubt to those involved in mediating this process and assume that it was likely undertaken with the best of intentions, it is unclear to the Community Disclosure Network what exactly these weekly meetings accomplished. Through disclosures made to the Network both anonymously and non-anonymously, we know that even after their establishment, sexual violence was reported.

While McGill has a sexual harassment policy, it does not integrate other bodies of the university such as SSMU, and thus SSMU does not have a clear outline of procedures for receiving disclosures. Once it became clear that any institutional avenues of recourse were insufficient due to their inability to allow for the discretion survivors desired, the Community Disclosure Network published an anonymous form to collect disclosures about Aird on Thursday, February 9th 2017. The disclosures were to be presented to the SSMU Board of Directors as part of an established process demanding Aird’s resignation. A number of people made submissions to the jotform and expressed their willingness to have their submission shared at a Board of Directors meeting or in a public way.

We want to honour the bravery of those who have come forward, anonymously or not, and the resilience of those who continue to survive this violence. We recognize that disclosing or reporting does not make any experience more legitimate than another. There are many reasons why those who have experienced violence choose not to take conventional avenues of justice. Often survivors are forced through perceived systems of justice that can be retraumatizing. Sexist, racist, and patriarchal structures and messaging encourage us to question, shame, and delegitimize both our own and others’ experiences of sexual and gendered violence. This often leads to victim-blaming and retraumatization due to the extremely high levels of scrutiny to which survivors and complainants are subject.

Unfortunately, the jotform link circulated more quickly and more publicly than we could have predicted.  We want to sincerely apologize to those who were sent the link without the proper context and subsequent support that it required. Aird discovered the form and contacted the Community Disclosure Network with an offer to resign. It is important that individuals with allegations of sexualized or gendered violence against them face consequences for their actions and are held accountable both by their employers and by their communities at large. Therefore, we responded by demanding his formal resignation from his position as VP External of SSMU, to be submitted between 9:00 am and 12:00 pm today, Wednesday February 22nd.

A lack of clear, binding policy has lead to multiple instances of disclosures being mishandled. SSMU’s membership deserves to see concrete steps taken to prevent this from happening again within SSMU and the larger McGill community.

With this in mind, we present the following as our demands to SSMU:

  1. That Aird resign immediately from his position as Vice-President External of SSMU
  2. That the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) commit to:a. issue of a statement unequivocally condemning Aird’s actions, to be widely disseminated on the SSMU website, Facebook page, listserv, and other communications platforms

    b. issue of an apology to survivors and the community at large which acknowledges that some members of the SSMU executive who were contacted by survivors and allies with their concerns should have immediately taken steps towards pro-survivor disciplinary action

    c. ensure that all elected representatives receive sensitivity and/or anti-oppression training at the beginning of their terms which focuses on how best to respond to disclosures of sexual violence and their roles in addressing them

    d. support initiatives to reduce sexual violence and sexual harassment and to ensure safe(r) campuses and safe(r) working environments within SSMU’s structure, including accountability procedures for candidates, executives, and staff that are pro-survivor, confidential, and respect SSMU’s anti-oppressive mandate.

    e. work in conjunction with the Community Disclosures Network and trained sexual assault activists on campus, such as SACOMSS, to:

    (i) adopt a concrete stand-alone sexual assault policy;
    (ii) develop explicit and easily accessible complaint procedures and response protocols related to sexual assault;
    (iii) develop training and prevention programs related to sexual assault for its staff and members;
    (iv) develop clear protocol for SSMU-affiliated clubs, services, and student groups to follow when dealing with situations of reported sexualized and/or gendered violence;
    (v) facilitate referrals to support services for survivors at McGill and within Montreal when disclosures are brought to SSMU staff or executives;
    (vi) review the above policy biannually with input from students and other stakeholders, especially regarding its effectiveness and accessibility, with a report to be issued at the end of the review process stating its findings.

    f. Support student-led healing initiatives.

While removing a perpetrator of sexualized and gendered violence from a position of power is an important step in the road to justice and healing, it does not signal the end of the justice process. While we unequivocally believe in the importance of concrete, pro-survivor sexual assault policy, it must also be said that the violence committed by Aird could not have been mitigated or inhibited by policy alone. We must equally acknowledge our community’s complicity in rape culture and toxic masculinity. For too long Aird’s actions were the SSMU community’s worst kept secret. All the while, Aird publicly maintained the appearance of being a feminist and an ally. Healing as a community must include collectively renewing our commitment to relentlessly dismantle the sexist, racist, and patriarchal structures which foster sexual violence and allow for it to go unchecked both at McGill and within society at large.

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Resources:

The Community Disclosure Network, in conjunction with sexual assault activists on campus, is organizing a support group facilitated by trained volunteers that will be open to all those who have experienced any degree of sexualized or gendered violence by Aird. There is a great range of experiences that have come to us through either the anonymous form, by email, or through personal disclosures — all are welcome to participate, whether or not you have disclosed anything to our network previously, or are planning to in the future.  All experiences are valid and worth talking about. If you would be interested in participating or would like more information — as well as if you have any thoughts or comments on how we can make this process more inclusive — please email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com

Thinking about your experience of sexualized/gendered violence might be difficult, and it might feel retraumatizing. That is a perfectly natural response, and you don’t have to be alone. Here is a non-exhaustive list of Montreal-based resources which offer a variety of supports:

SACOMSS: The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society is a volunteer-run organization committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault and their allies through direct support, advocacy, and outreach. Their services include Drop-In and Line (DIAL), Support Groups, Advocacy, and Outreach. http://www.sacomss.org/wp/

McGill Peer Support Centre: The Peer Support Centre offers free, non-judgemental peer support, and can help direct you toward other available resources.

Office for Sexual Violence, Response, Support, and Education: Resource run through the Office of the Dean of Students; for active listening as well as for addressing complaints and facilitating disciplinary action. They have trained Sexual Assault Respondents available on campus.

The Montréal Sexual Assault Centre: Offers a range of free services to anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, as well as survivors’ family and friends. Services include medical, legal and/or individual therapy for 18+; listening, support and referral for all ages; and a toll-free 24/7 helpline for all. 1-800-933-9007 ; 514-934-4504 http://www.cvasm.org

Tel-Aide: 514-935-1101. Offers 24/7 free, anonymous, non-judgmental listening centre for people in distress in both English and French. http://www.telaide.org/en/

Nightline: A peer resource offering a confidential, anonymous and non-judgemental listening, run by McGill students. Services include active listening, resource referrals and crisis management. 514-398-6246. http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/nightline

CIRCLES, a community response and resource: “CIRCLES is a resource, a letter of solidarity to fellow survivors, and a reconstruction of what it means to heal collectively”. Includes in-depth listing of support services available. We love this resource. Email circlescommunityresponse@gmail.com for a pdf copy