OTTAWA – A senior member of the suspended University of Ottawa men’s hockey team says his name has been smeared by the institution’s response to allegations of sexual assault by at least one member of the team.
The entire men’s hockey program was suspended at the end of February amidst a sexual assault investigation. The alleged incident is believed to have happened the weekend of Feb. 1, when the Ottawa hockey team was in Thunder Bay for two scheduled Ontario University Athletics division games against Lakehead University. Police are investigating.
Pat Burns, a fifth year psychology student and suspended University of Ottawa Gee-Gees defencemen, said in an email sent from a university account that many of his teammates are “suffering” as a result of the suspension and subsequent actions by the university.
In an open letter to Allan Rock, the university’s president, Burns wrote: “Unfortunately, my years of dedication and my good name have been smeared by the very university I spent so much time working to promote.”
Burns would not do an interview about this letter, stating in an email: “My letter is my statement.”
Burns will graduate this year and says he was banned from a reception held to honour the contributions of graduating student athletes. He said he wrote to the school’s assistant athletic director and to Rock asking them to rectify the situation, but did not get any response.
Graduating players also typically are awarded their jerseys at that reception, but Burns said he was told the university would mail it to him if they deemed it fit for him to receive it.
Burns said that he has spent years volunteering with community organizations and with the University of Ottawa’s sports services department – work he feels the university is disregarding. “As my graduation approaches, I leave feeling frustrated, and betrayed by the very school, and athletic department I have spend the last half-decade serving and representing,” Burns wrote.
The University of Ottawa said the suspension of the hockey program will remain in place until its internal review into the allegations is complete.
“We appreciate the impact the suspension has on all members of the hockey program, but we feel that it is in the best interests of all concerned to permit, at the very least, the completion of the university’s review before revisiting the decision,” said university spokeswoman Caroline Milliard.
Milliard added that athletes were told at the time of the suspension that they would not be permitted to participate in any Gee-Gees activities, including the banquet and graduation reception, if they occurred prior to the program being reinstated. The suspension does not have any impact on the academic situations of any of the former players.
Investigators with the Thunder Bay Police spent a time in Ottawa recently interviewing members of the hockey team. They are now in the process of going over the interviews and the evidence to determine whether charges will be laid.
In his letter, Burns says he has been cooperating fully with the police and the university, “despite being assumed guilty” by his peers and the public. He also said he personally has not been found to be connected to the allegations of misconduct and expressed concerns about the exoneration of those who might be found innocent.
Chris Adams, with the Thunder Bay Police, said it is too early to say who is being investigated as a suspect and who is being questioned as a witness. “I can understand the frustration people have when they do cooperate with police, however investigations take time and you cannot label or discount any information until the investigation is completed,” Adams said, reiterating that these are serious allegations.
Meanwhile, Rock launched a task force on respect and equality following the hockey team’s suspension and other allegations of sexual misconduct involving other students.
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