Dalhousie president hopes restorative justice will rebuild trust in classroom

WATCH: Dalhousie University President Richard Florizone says the male students who posted misogynistic comments about their peers online will not be expelled. Julia Wong reports.

HALIFAX – Dalhousie University plans to use restorative justice to deal with the 13 men who wrote misogynistic comments about their female peers and joked about raping them.

President Richard Florizone made the announcement Wednesday night, saying it was the option chosen by the female victims. The other option would have been for the women to file a formal complaint.

He said that, for confidentiality reasons, he could not identify how many women had come forward with complaints about the Facebook group where the men posted the sexist comments.

 “We want to pursue the option that best understood and addressed the needs of the women who were most affected by this,” he said.

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Florizone said the restorative justice process is already underway and adds the end result of it, such as whether the students could be expelled, is still unknown at this point.

“The solutions will come out of that process. What the students have elected under the policies is to use this process to investigate and actually identify the ways we can rebuild that trust in the classroom, rebuild the public trust as well.”

 Jennifer Llewellyn, the director of the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Community University Research Alliance, said restorative justice will allow the university to better understand the situation.

“What’s at stake is discovering the truth of what happened, the context and causes of that,” she said.

She said it allows for greater accountability of those involved.

“They have to confront those they’ve affected. They have to understand the depth of the harms they’ve caused to others. They have to be active participants in figuring out what needs to happen next, not just simply passively accept a punishment or a penalty,” said Llewellyn.

Questioned by media about whether he thinks the male dental students are a public safety risk, Florizone responded that, at this time, he did not think so.

When pressed on how he expects the female students to feel comfortable sitting beside the men who wrote the degrading comments, Florizone said he is looking for a remedy to make it safe for them.

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“This principle of victim centered justice is to look to them and to look to the accused with university support to find the answer exactly to that question. How do we make this safe?”

Florizone said he has been struck with how the female victims have been dealing with the situation. He has also had some correspondence with the 13 men.

“I’m struck by the horror I hear, the regret I hear from some of the men involved. It doesn’t excuse it. It doesn’t remedy the situation but it’s a fact,” he said.

The results of the restorative justice process may take months to complete and it is not clear whether the results will be made public or not.

However, Florizone said the students involved will not graduate until the situation is resolved.

The decision not to expel the students brought quick condemnation from Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.

It released the following statement:

“Their blatant defiance of the School’s code of ethics and university policies on respect and violence should be considered as a reason for their dismissal as students from Dalhousie University. We ask that Dalhousie University take the initiative to show its female students and the community it resides in, that rape and sexualized violence will not be taken lightly. That it does not think this incident is funny.”

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WATCH: Dalhousie offensive posts example of a much bigger problem. Global’s Marieke Walsh reports.

On campus staff and students expressed shock and disgust, on Tuesday, towards the Facebook comments.

“I’m very disappointed in this,” said staff member Deanna Foster. “Action needs to be taken because if we want society’s views of women to change then we can’t allow things like this to continue.”

“I’m disgusted, I think it’s embarrassing for them,” said student Brogan Carruthers. “I wouldn’t expect something like that to be happening especially from a graduate program.”

“If there’s no action taken it’s just going to prove that men can continue to think this way, objectify women and there will be no consequences,” said Foster.

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