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Dalhousie suspends 13 dentistry students following Facebook comments

WATCH: Dentistry students at Dalhousie University who wrote offensive and explicit postings on a Facebook page have been suspended from clinical activities, but it’s unclear for how long. Many people expected something more definitive. Ross Lord explains.

HALIFAX – Dalhousie University has suspended 13 fourth-year dentistry students from clinical activity as part of its investigation into alleged misogynistic comments posted on a Facebook group by dentistry students last month.

At a news conference on Monday, Dentistry Faculty Dean Dr. Thomas Boran said news of the comments made by the students on a Facebook group named Class of 2015 DDS Gentlemen’s Club caught him “unaware.”

“It totally rocked our administration,” he said. “We had no idea [the group] existed.”

READ MORE: Restorative justice: Will it work in the Dalhousie Facebook scandal?

The decision to suspend the students was made on Dec. 22, but university president Richard Florizone said it was not announced until Monday due to the risk of self-harm by some of the male students involved. He said with the students away from Halifax, the school wanted to wait until they returned and support systems could be put in place for them.

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WATCH: Florizone and Boran explain the suspension of students linked to controversial comments on social media and whether or not they are able to continue their education in the weeks ahead.

The suspensions are pending a review by the faculty of dentistry’s academic standards committee. The students will be permitted to be on campus, but not in the dental clinics, while a restorative justice process — which is an informal and confidential resolution procedure that includes all parties involved — takes place.

A statement released earlier on Monday and signed by Florizone and Boran said the suspensions are “necessary to ensure a safe and supportive environment for patients and classmates who participate in the clinics.”

Florizone said while the suspensions are in place, the affected students cannot graduate. He said in the meantime, several options including segregating the suspended students in separate classes are on the table.

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He said several university policies came into play when deciding on a response, and the school started by applying its sexual harassment policy.

“The issue here is trying to find the right path forward,” he said.

He added that Dalhousie has brought in external legal counsel to handle “this significant issue.”

A faculty-led review of the case is slated to begin this week.

WATCH: Florizone said Monday that concern for the safety of male students linked to controversial Facebook comments deferred the public announcement of a suspension.

A decision about rescheduling the fourth-year dentistry exams, which were postponed when the controversy erupted, and fourth-year classes will be made this week. Classes are currently scheduled to resume on Jan. 12.

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On Saturday, four Dalhousie professors who filed an anonymous complaint about the group came forward because they felt there were “unexplained delays” in processing the complaint.

Additionally, some of the women targeted in the Facebook group have decided to go forward with an informal complaints process at the university.

A group claiming to be part of the hacker collective Anonymous said it would release the names of the men involved in the Facebook group on Monday if the university did not expel them.

As of early Monday afternoon, a Change.org petition calling for the members of the Facebook group to be expelled from Dalhousie had accumulated more than 47,000 signatures.

WATCH: Dr. Richard Florizone, President of Dalhousie University, and Dr. Tom Boran, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, announce measures against students linked to controversial Facebook comments made in December.

With files from Marieke Walsh, Global News

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