Statement Regarding our Next Steps, in Light of Recent Events on Campus

Content Warning. The following statement discusses instances of sexual violence committed by people who occupy positions 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 both on and off-campus.

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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It is with a heavy heart that we address the McGill community in a second statement. The Community Disclosures Network formed as an ad-hoc group created out of a need identified by allies and survivors of David Aird in order to pursue action against him through a third party reporting system. As recent events following our first statement on February 21st have shown, the need for a group like CDN on McGill campus goes beyond the situation concerning Aird. As such, we will be taking steps over the summer to ensure that we have the resources and internal structure to become a reliable and sustainable resource for survivors on campus as of the Fall 2017 semester. This includes working with other grassroots groups doing work around gender advocacy to create a productive network that is able to help anyone who comes forward to them to the best of their collective abilities.

There have been many developments since our initial statement on February 21st, including the resignation of three students holding positions within SSMU following allegations of gendered and/or sexualized violence; ongoing, public dialogue around our community’s complicity in upholding and perpetuating rape culture; and organizing towards the creations of a sexualized and gendered violence policy unique to SSMU. We would like to take this opportunity to individually address recent events, as well as the justice work that the CDN has engaged with since going public just over a month ago.

The conditions which lead to the resignation of (former) President of SSMU, Ben Ger, are, by now, public knowledge. Following the release of our statement concerning David Aird, a member of the McGill community approached the CDN with information regarding Ger’s history of gendered violence. Once this information was disclosed to us, and with the member of the community who came forward, we took immediate steps to ensure that Ger was no longer involved with any formal nor informal process or discussion involving Aird, nor the creation of a new SSMU sexualized and gendered violence policy. We met with Ger to relay our sense that it would be inappropriate for him to continue to be involved with the any and all justice processes relating to Aird specifically or sexualized and gendered violence in general. Additionally, it was felt that Ger’s own history of unchecked gendered violence made him unsuited to continue in his position of relative power and authority as President of SSMU, and it was recommended that he resign.

Secondly, we wish to address the rape joke made by SSMU VP External Candidate Noah Century during an interview with the McGill Daily. When asked in an interview with the Daily what Century felt had been learned from the Aird case, his response was “don’t get caught”. Century’s comment exists within the spectrum of sexualized and gendered violence, and deserves to be strongly condemned. Recent, high profile events throughout the country and on our campus to do with the systemic invalidation and trivialization of the experiences of survivors of sexualized and gendered violence have amplified both the pervasiveness of the issue, and the duty we have to respond. The CDN feels that, with his behaviour, Noah participated in the endemic trivialization of the experiences and traumas of survivors on this campus and beyond and demonstrates the pervasiveness of rape culture at McGill.

There are consequences for engaging in any kind of gendered violence – whether it be rhetorical or physical, made in public or private, by a student leader, a friend, a professor, or a peer. This kind of inappropriate language and behaviour cannot, and will not, go unanswered, and we commend all those who publicly denounced Century and successfully campaigned for his withdrawal as a candidate in the SSMU election.

The CDN urges the McGill community to call on our leaders, on the administration, on those with elected positions within the SSMU, on the groups we each individually work with on campus, and on each other to actively work together challenge rape culture on campus. We maintain that a just process does not merely end with a withdrawal of candidacy, as in Century’s case, nor with a resignation from a position of power, as with Aird and Ger.  We must continuously work together to protect members of our communities from both rhetorical and physical gendered violence. This is a long journey, and one that the McGill community has to be willing to undertake beyond this semester.

In the aftermath of the many resignations within student leadership, many on campus expressed that they felt they had “reached a breaking point”. We agree, and feel that this sense of betrayal, indignation, or disgust must be mobilized towards direct, concrete action. Furthermore, we must continue this momentum throughout the summer semester and into the following school year.

In our discussions with SSMU these past weeks about what next steps should look like, it has become incredibly clear to us that there is no institutionalized training or knowledge about how to deal with the situation such as the one we have found ourselves in. SSMU has acknowledged that they do not have the resources to properly address issues of gendered violence on campus, and they are listening to us and working with us to change this.

We have been asked why we have chosen to work with SSMU, and we would like to publicly and clearly outline what we as a group hope to achieve out of this collaboration. Our goals in working with SSMU are to create a pro-survivor document that protects the SSMU community, and also to ensure that resources and outlines of procedures are made as accessible as possible to survivors without them having to first disclose to someone and/or while remaining anonymous. This requires an ongoing dialogue throughout the creation of this policy regarding what these processes could look like, and how SSMU can work with other student groups on campus to make sure that such a policy and the procedures it outlines are implemented properly.

The argument has been made that a new Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy at SSMU would be useless labour because the new Sexual Violence Policy (SVP) passed by McGill Administration in November 2016 would apply to anyone within the SSMU membership. We disagree with the insinuation that because of this we should not proceed with creating a policy specific to SSMU. The McGill administration’s track record of disbelieving survivors makes us wary of having their policy be the only recourse on campus that survivors are able to use in order to take concrete action against their aggressor. We think the SVP has potential, and that admin is slowly taking steps to win back the trust of the student body, but we are wary of this process and the time it is most likely to take. One could argue that we could say the same about SSMU. However we, the members of SSMU, have much more say in the policy-making process at this level, then we do at the admin level where we have relatively little to no control, as shown by their initial rejection of the student draft of the SVP.  Furthermore, CDN has received firm commitment from SSMU that they will ensure that this policy and the subsequent work/dialogue surrounding it is as bottom-up and survivor-led as possible. This means, among other things, giving support to the grassroot organizations doing work around gendered violence that already operate on this campus (and most often are survivor-led) and seeking their input on what the training for all positions within SSMU should look like.

We at CDN have our own vision for what a GSVP at SSMU would look like and how we  would like to see it implemented, but more than anything we want to make sure that SSMU members have the policy that they wish to see, and we will do our best in the coming weeks to facilitate that.  As many have seen from the statement that SSMU released on Thursday, we will be running closed focus groups in accessible off-campus spaces for members of the community who have experienced any form of sexualized violence to share their concerns, thoughts, and hopes for the new GSVP. They will be facilitated by trained volunteers who have been working with us throughout this process, and will be a purposefully non-SSMU facilitated space to have a conversation about what next steps should look like. If you would be interested in participating in one or more of these focus groups, please register here or email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com.

Since our initial statement, the work of the CDN has focused on both facilitating next steps within SSMU, and working externally to SSMU to shift discourse on the ground and challenge rape culture at the level of our communities. To effectively do this we must confront our own complicity in perpetuating gendered and sexualized violence. It is not simply a case of removing all perpetrators from positions of power. We must constantly be asking ourselves what community accountability consists of, and what it might look like to hold each other mutually accountable. This includes, among other things, examining our own behaviour, educating ourselves and our friends.

We at CDN will be reaching out to student-led groups on campus to participate in roundtable discussions and a series of skills workshops related to addressing sexual violence. These may include anti-oppressive and pro-survivor policy development as well as responding effectively to disclosures of sexual violence. Our goal is to ensure that students and student groups are equipped to foster safer communities and to continue this necessary dialogue beyond the current semester in a sustainable way. We will be emailing groups within the next couple of days, however if we do not get in contact with your group and you would like to participate in this initiative, please email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com.

Finally, we would like to remind folks that we, in conjunction with sexual assault activists on campus, are 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 David Aird. There is a great range of experiences that have come to CDN through either the anonymous form, by email, or through in-person disclosures — all are welcome to participate, whether or not you have disclosed anything to the network previously, or are planning to in the future.  All experiences are valid and are 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 CDN can make this process more inclusive — please email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this statement. We understand it’s a lot (both to read and to emotionally address) and we encourage everyone to take steps to keep up this dialogue as long, sustainably, and productively as they can. We are at a turning point on campus. It’s time for change. It’s time for radical resilience.

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Resources:

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

 

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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