The president and vice-chancellor of the University of King’s College in Halifax has apologized after a recent independent review found the school failed to respond appropriately to historical sexual assault allegations against one of its professors.
An independent review into the decades-old sexual assault allegations against the late Wayne Hankey found the former Halifax professor exploited his position to abuse young men, and there’s evidence that King’s knew about his behaviour and failed to take appropriate action.
The partially-redacted report, prepared by lawyers Janice Rubin and and Elizabeth Bingham of Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson and released Wednesday, said the university was “lacking” in its response after it became aware of Hankey’s alleged inappropriate behaviour.
A public apology was one of the report’s five recommendations.
In an address to the school community Wednesday afternoon, University of King’s College president and vice-chancellor William Lahey, speaking on behalf of the school, said he “unreservedly and unequivocally” accepted the report’s findings and recommendations.
“To the men that have been harmed by Dr. Hankey’s reprehensible behaviour, and the university’s inaction to spare you from it, I apologize to you, deeply, sincerely, and publicly,” he said.
“We apologize for what was done to you and for the university’s past failure to address Dr. Hankey’s behaviour properly and fully.”
Lahey said he is apologizing not because it was recommended in the report, but because “it is the right thing to do.”
“We failed to protect you. We failed to believe you. And we are sorry.”
Hankey, a former classics professor, was supposed to go to trial last March to face a series of sexual assault charges in connection with alleged incidents in the 1970s and 1980s.
While he retired from King’s in 2015, Hankey was still teaching one course at Dalhousie University when he was first charged in 2021.
The charges against him were dismissed in February 2022 after Hankey died at the age of 77. At the time, the University of King’s College said an independent review process that was established by the university in February 2021 would proceed despite Hankey’s death.
The review sought to determine the facts that led to the charges against Hankey, determine the impact on those affected, whether anyone in a position of authority and responsibility had knowledge of these facts and what was done about it. It also made a number of recommendations to King’s College.
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Read more: Wayne Hankey, former Halifax professor facing sexual assault charges, dies prior to trial
As part of the review, 81 people — mostly connected to the school in some way — were interviewed over the course of 110 hours.
Rubin Thomlinson also reviewed “hundreds of pages of documentation” from King’s related to Hankey, which it said was “underwhelming” and “generally unhelpful in establishing the critical facts.”
“In our view, this did not mean that certain events we would expect to have been ‘papered’ (and were not) did not happen,” it said. “Rather, we think it points to a lackadaisical approach to record keeping.”
Hankey was charged in February 2021 with one count of sexual assault in relation to a 1988 incident in student housing on the King’s College campus.
Police added another sexual assault charge in April 2021 in connection with an alleged assault involving another man in 1982 and added charges of indecent assault in relation to incidents involving a third man that are alleged to have occurred between 1977 and 1979.
Hankey had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
However, the review noted that the criminal charges “were not the first time his conduct towards students was considered.”
It said a man made a complaint against Hankey to the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in 1990, alleging the professor assaulted him “continuously over a number of years,” beginning when he was a student.
Read more: University of King’s College begins review of retired professor charged with historical sexual assault
After Hankey was found guilty of immorality by an ecclesiastical court, the complaint was referred to King’s and Hankey was disciplined in 1991 following an internal inquiry by a university committee. He returned to the university after a one-year suspension.
While the committee found it to be an “inappropriate relationship,” the members believed it had been consensual and “not a case of criminal assault.”
The review noted that a written report was prepared by the committee, but it was destroyed in 2003, “when the president at the time was ending his term and cleaning up his office.
“He became aware that it was in his files, and he decided that because both the Church and the university had acted on the complaints, the matter was done,” it said.
“He did not want to leave the report for others to find, in part, out of respect for the privacy of those who were involved.”
The review said the 1991 disciplinary process was “misguided as to the true nature of the relationship between Dr. Hankey and the man.”
“Based on the clear language of the man’s complaint, in which he asserted that he had been assaulted, which the committee believed Dr. Hankey had admitted, it was apparent that what Dr. Hankey had done went well beyond professional misconduct or an inappropriate relationship,” it said.
“He had had sexual contact with the man repeatedly without his consent.”
The man who made the complaint in 1990 said in an interview for the review that it was a “horrible experience.”
“The man, now in his early sixties, described to us the lifelong impact of the abuse, and of making a complaint against Dr. Hankey,” it said. “This included psychological issues, health effects, a strain on his family relationships, the ending of many friendships, and ultimately, his decision to move away from Nova Scotia with his family.”
The review also found the committee’s focus was too narrow in scope, failing to connect the dots with a previous incident in 1981 where Hankey was reportedly found swimming naked in the school’s pool with a boy.
School ‘protected’ Hankey: report
The review, which detailed a list of Hankey’s alleged inappropriate behaviour spanning from the late 1970s until 2019, said the former professor “engaged in a pattern of predatory and abusive behaviour towards some young men.”
This behaviour includes subtle solicitation, sexual suggestion, homophobic remarks and sexual assault.
It said most of his conduct was connected to Hankey’s employment at King’s, and “based on what interviewees told us, Dr. Hankey was able to exploit his position to do this.”
“He had access to young men through his teaching and social life at King’s, as well as his position as a don in King’s residence,” it said. “For that, we believe that King’s is responsible for its role in the harm Dr. Hankey has caused.”
The review said it found “several specific occasions” where King’s became aware of Hankey’s “problematic behaviour.”
“Through our review of the evidence, what also became evident were occasions where the university protected Dr. Hankey,” it said.
The report made a number of recommendations, which include issuing a public apology, continuing to seek information about other potential victims and making amends to the individuals harmed by Hankey — which could include financial compensation.
It said making amends is the “most pressing” recommendation.
“We strongly believe that it is incumbent on King’s to make amends to those men who were directly impacted by Dr. Hankey’s abusive behaviour,” it said.
Victims to be compensated
In his address Wednesday, Lahey said the school must accept accountability by making amends to those harmed.
The report recommended that if legal action is commenced, it should be settled rather than litigated to avoid further harm to those involved.
Lahey agreed and said the school’s response will be guided by Rubin’s findings.
“Our goal is appropriate and just compensation,” he said.
The university president and vice-chancellor said he hopes the release of the report provided some relief to the victims, and expressed his gratitude to those who were interviewed.
He asked that anyone else who had an experience with Hankey, or knowledge of one, to contact the report’s authors.
Lahey said King’s will do “everything it can” to prevent sexual violence in its community and, when it happens, to respond to it “with the seriousness that violence always requires.”
— with files from The Canadian Press