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Mar 03 2014

“We meant you no harm”

The CBC reports a student union leader at the University of Ottawa, Anne-Marie Roy, was anonymously sent screenshots of a Facebook conversation about her among five male students who are also student leaders. It was an unpleasant conversation from her point of view.

The online conversation — a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press — included references to sexual activities some of the five individuals wrote they would like to engage in with Roy, including oral and anal sex, as well as suggestions that she suffered from sexually transmitted diseases.

“Someone punish her with their shaft,” wrote one of the individuals at one point. “I do believe that with my reputation I would destroy her,” wrote another.

After confronting a member of the conversation in person, Roy said she received an emailed apology from all five men which emphasized that their comments were never actual threats against her.

“While it doesn’t change the inadmissible nature of our comments, we wish to assure you we meant you no harm,” the apology, written in French, read.

Ohhhhh you know what? Fuck you. The comments are the harm. They’re in writing.

Roy decided she would bring it up at a Feb. 23 meeting of the student federation’s Board of Administration, which oversees the affairs of the student union.

Her plan was to distribute copies of the conversation to the board’s members while asking the board to move a motion to “condemn” those who engaged in the discussion, two of whom were board members. The other three were involved with organizing campus events.

After learning of Roy’s plan, four of the five individuals sent her a letter warning her that the conversation was a private one and that sharing it with others would amount to a violation of their rights.

A violation of their rights! They threatened her to make her shut up about their conversation about her – their conversation about her that degraded her. Their rights. Great godalmighty.

The one participant in the conversation who is not threatening legal action said the entire incident has been a huge learning experience.

“There was some conversation with some pretty violent, like, some pretty demeaning words,” said Pat Marquis. “I didn’t say much in that conversation, but I didn’t stop it either.”

Marquis was a vice-president in the student union until he resigned this weekend, reportedly after receiving hate mail and threats related to the conversation. He said he planned to meet with Roy to “discuss ways to move forward.”

“There’s a lot of boys’ talk and locker room talk that can seem pretty normal at the time, but then when you actually look back at it, it can be offensive,” he said.

“I would never say that kind of thing out in the public but when it was a private conversation I guess it slipped my mind that that’s really not acceptable.”

It’s good that he learned, at least.

He gave himself a helpful clue: he would never say that kind of thing out in the public. Well why not? Think about that for a minute and it might become clearer why it’s not acceptable in private either.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the University of Ottawa said it was “appalled” by the online conversation which it said demonstrated attitudes about women and sexual aggression that had “no place on campus, or anywhere else.” It said it was working with Roy to develop “an appropriate response.”

The entire incident has at least one observer saying it’s clear universities need to have a more open discussion about how students talk about each other, even in private.

“I do think it’s a form of cyberbullying even though she wasn’t a direct recipient of those messages on Facebook,” said Wanda Cassidy, associate professor at Simon Fraser University who researches cyberbullying in schools and universities.

“There needs to be a lot more conversation around those kinds of behaviour and comments that are made demeaning towards women.”

The footprint that such comments can leave on the Internet should also make individuals think twice before sending demeaning or hurtful messages, she said.

“Whereas 20 years ago those guys might have been out sitting around having a beer and talking in that way, it is quite different when you’re putting in print, because it’s there as a record.”

Yes it is, and yes it is.

Update:

Another report says the students dropped their legal threats and resigned their posts as student representatives.

Marquis, Larochelle, Giroux and Fournier-Simard were all elected student representatives who resigned from their posts over the weekend after a mounting outcry from their peers. Tremblay volunteered on occasion with the university’s Faculty of Arts student association but was not an elected member.

The University of Ottawa said it was “appalled” at the conversation and is working with Roy on “an appropriate response.”

After a brief conversation with the university’s president on Monday, Roy said the institution was considering a campus audit on issues related to student safety.

Good. This shit isn’t ok.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    quixote

    You know what’s sad? I’d already braced myself for the story to end in everyone saying, “Oh it was just a joke lighten up.” I didn’t even fully realize it, so I was surprised when it ended in a good loud, “This shit is not okay.”

    It’s about time. One day they will all end that way. After that, only historians will even know this crap ever happened.

  2. 2
    AJ Milne

    … also from my alma mater (hangs head) today:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/university-of-ottawa-suspends-men-s-hockey-program-amid-police-probe-1.2557992

    I hadn’t heard about the legal threat. That’s… umm… impressive gall, that is. Welcome to reality, ye very appropriately now former office-holders.

  3. 3
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    I’m hoping this comes up @ Pharyngula as well. I heard about it hours ago but hadn’t had a chance to get PZ aware. Hopefully he’ll see this – not because he’ll do a better job of discussing it, Ophelia, but just because he has a lot of folks come there to demonstrate that this stupidity isn’t an aberration any time he posts on this stuff. I’d like the discussion to carry further…and further…and further.

    There’s been a lot of attention to incidents like this in Canada this year, and I don’t think that’s because Canadian schools are more sexist than those in the US or Australia or the UK or NZ or South Africa.

  4. 4
    leni

    While it doesn’t change the inadmissible nature of our comments, we wish to assure you we meant you no harm,”..

    Bullshit.

  5. 5
    Forbidden Snowflake

    What do they mean, the conversation was private? Where on Facebook did it happen? Because I can see two scenarios:
    1. The conversation took place in a closed group in which the only members are those five guys (if that’s the case, an interesting question is which one of them was the “mole” who sent the screencaps).
    2. The conversation wasn’t private.

  6. 6
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Yay for happy endings!

    Boo to those toolsheds for even having that conversation in the first place.

  7. 7
    sailor1031

    I would never say that kind of thing out in the public but…

    OFFS! They did say it out in public. On the fucking internet FFS. Over 3 billion users…. how much more public could you make it? Do these morons seriously think that FB is private? Jeez. There is only one person in this lamentable affair whose rights have been violated and it isn’t this cretin, or any of his buddies.

  8. 8
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Someone punish her with their shaft.

    Read that. Read that in the calm, nonchalant way it was delivered. As if it were as normal to say as ‘don’t forget the eggs while you’re at the store.’

    And shudder.

  9. 9
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    … also from my alma mater (hangs head) today:

    Don’t hang your head in shame. At least we’ve finally got an institution acting appropriately for once (at least so far). They received information about a sexual assault complaint against members of the hockey team and they suspended the team. Didn’t make excuses, didn’t cover it up, didn’t dismiss the victim or the accuser as liars and troublemakers, didn’t pay the victim to go away or threaten them with more violence, didn’t say “we won’t do anything until the allegations have been proven in a court of law”. Reported the incident to the police and suspended the team.

  10. 10
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    ETA: Within a week of being informed about the accusation. It’s sad that this is so impressive, but still it’s giving me hope that we’re changing things.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Quixote – same here – I was expecting the next bit to be “but of course officials noted this was just banter among friends on social media” end of story. I was pleased to be able to end, honestly, with what the U of Ottawa said.

  12. 12
    Claire Ramsey

    a violation of the rights of those who meant “no harm”?? How stupid do they think we are? Privacy rights on FACEBOOK????? Privacy rights after some unknown someone sent the transcript to the victim?

    jesus h christ

    At least attempts to sweep it under the rug, justify it, and threaten litigation over it finally got laughed out of existence.

    And just think, these fine upstanding young men are all statistically likely to become fathers of children, some of whom might be girl children. . .

    makes me like to puke. . .

  13. 13
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Ibis3:

    Excellent point. The University appears to be handling this correctly.

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