Ottawa U apologizes for race incident

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

James Boyce

Jacques Frémont, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Ottawa, issued the following statement:

Today I am making public an independent investigator’s report concerning the incident that occurred on our campus in June involving one of our students and the university’s Protection Services.

When I commissioned the investigation, I committed to make the report public. I am delivering on that promise today.

The report I am releasing today was commissioned by the University and conducted by an independent investigator who is a respected human rights lawyer in Toronto. Her mandate was twofold: first, to investigate both the specifics of the June incident and second, to review the University’s Protection Services policies and procedures and their application more broadly and to advise about their impacts on racialized community members.

Today, we are releasing the first part of her report about the June incident. You will notice that parts of the report were redacted. The redactions are necessary to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. The report concludes that race was a factor in the incident. It also concludes that the University’s outdated operational procedures and inadequate training was a second factor in the incident.

I accept this report and its findings.

I will admit that I was initially surprised to hear about the incident. Yet, as a human rights lawyer, I should not have been. I know how much the pursuit of true equality and inclusivity remains an ongoing struggle in society at large

I would like to offer our student who was involved in this incident an apology, on behalf of the University of Ottawa and on my own personal behalf.

I am deeply sorry for the way you were treated and for the humiliation that you experienced. I apologize to you for what happened. It was unacceptable and it was wrong.

To the broader university community, I understand that these events are upsetting to many of our students, faculty and staff. They upset me too. I would like to apologize to the community at large, and especially to the members of uOttawa’s racialized community.

At uOttawa we must acknowledge that we are a microcosm of society, with its strengths and its weaknesses. As a society, we are steadily increasing our understanding of how seemingly neutral administrative decisions can have disproportionately negative effects on racialized individuals and communities. This learning process is necessary, yet it is often difficult, and can be painful.

Regrettable as this incident was, it has been a catalyst for the university to look in the mirror and to take significant new steps to ensure that we never again unintentionally perpetuate or reinforce attitudes or behaviors that undermine the dignity of any person on campus.

When the event occurred, we began to take action immediately. We implemented four interim measures over the summer, before the academic year began, to address allegations of racism, racial profiling and harassment that arose as a result of this incident.

First, Protection Services officers participated in training focused on unconscious bias and equity, diversity and inclusion. The dialogue during the sessions was positive and encouraging. This training will be ongoing.

Second, we implemented new directives that clarified when and how requests for identification are made by Protection services officers on campus.

Third, we have updated our complaint mechanism and last, we put in place a committee to advise me directly on other ways that we can prevent racism and promote diversity, acceptance and inclusivity across the campus. I have met with the student involved in the June incident and invited him to join that committee.

I continue to have confidence in our Protection Services officers. For 50 years they have successfully kept our campuses safe and have helped students, employees and those visiting the campus in a wide range of challenging situations. The investigator finds that race was a factor in this incident, but it was not the only factor. She also finds that the incident was due to the University’s outdated operational procedures and inadequate training. As president of uOttawa, I take responsibility.

It was my belief before the incident – and it is still my belief now – that overall, uOttawa remains a safe, accepting and inclusive community.

A university is a learning institution. Learning is our mission, and our raison d’etre. We are – we must be – dedicated to learning from what happened and how we can do better.

Later this fall the second part of the investigator’s report will be completed and released. No doubt, we will have more to learn. These learnings are necessary, and they are for the best.

We must continue to learn and to listen to our community, so that uOttawa can truly become a model and a leader in the proactive promotion of inclusiveness, diversity and equality for all.

Thank you.

To read the report, click here.

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To read the report of the original incident click here:

 Jacques Frémont,President and Vice-Chancellor

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