Dozens of sexual assaults alleged at N.S. university, police investigating

File - The sign for Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, N.S. Alexander Quon/Global News

Police are looking into dozens of alleged historical sexual assaults at a French-language university in southwestern Nova Scotia.

In a release, the RCMP said officers with the Meteghan detachment are seeking information after they became aware of “information alleging more than 50 incidents of sexual assault” at Université Sainte-Anne in Pointe-de-l’Église.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said the allegations were published on the website SA Change Now, where an anonymous group of students have shared accounts of being “victimized by the rape culture at the university.”

The website alleges that between 2015 and 2019, there were at least 53 sexual assaults on the Sainte-Anne campus or perpetrated by Sainte-Anne students.

It also alleged that one perpetrator was responsible for at least 17 sexual assaults from 2018 to 2019, and students were “never informed there was a serial rapist on campus.” The claims have not been proven.

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“What’s on that website is all we know,” Cpl. Marshall said. “Once we became aware of that website, we thought we probably should start a file.”

He said police did investigate four claims of sexual assault at the university between 2015 and 2023, two of which resulted in criminal charges.

Marshall said police are asking anyone with information about the alleged assaults to contact the Meteghan RCMP at 902-645-2326. Anonymous tips can also be submitted through Crime Stoppers.

The SA Change Now website says there “there has been a persistent rape culture” at the university for years.

“This rape culture means that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape on campus have been minimized, tolerated, and accepted,” it said.

The website also alleged the school has failed to take sexual assault allegations seriously.

“Students at Sainte-Anne have, for years, raised complaints and questions about sexual harassment and sexual assault to little avail,” it said.

It made a number of recommendations, including putting more outside lights throughout the campus, implementing trauma-informed support for students and an office dedicated to sexual assault complaints, and to have an outside consultant review and revise the sexual assault hearing process.

The Halifax Examiner first reported on the sexual assault allegations earlier this month.

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School responds

In a brief statement to Global News, Université Sainte-Anne spokesperson Rachelle LeBlanc said: “We fully support the RCMP’s appeal to the public for information related to the alleged historical sexual assaults.”

She also pointed to a statement posted to the school website Tuesday, “asking that any victims or anyone who has knowledge of sexual assault while at Université Sainte-Anne report the incident.”

The public statement said sexual violence prevention is a priority for the school as the academic year begins.

“We assure you that this file remains a priority for the academic year which is beginning,” it said in French. “The recent campaign on social networks, as well as certain texts published in the media, slightly precede our intention to communicate with you.”

It said the school has almost completed a revision of its sexual violence policy, is participating in a provincial committee for preventing sexual violence, and working on modifying lighting on campus.

It also encouraged students to take part in consent and intervention skills training, which is being offered at the start of the academic year.

Campus sexual assault

The allegations at Université Sainte-Anne came as another Nova Scotia university faces legal action over its handling of alleged sexual assaults.

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Last month, a former St. Francis Xavier University student launched a civil lawsuit against the school, alleging it “enabled a predator” and failed to protect her and other students.

The woman said that although the school was made aware of the allegations against the accused, it failed to take action, putting her and other students in danger.

The lawsuit alleges the school failed to perform its duties to oversee the care, control, and protection of its students. None of the allegations, either criminal or civil, have been proven in court.

Campus sexual assault is a far-reaching problem at Canadian universities. According to Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of students reportedly witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviours in post-secondary settings in 2019.

Additionally, one in 10 women reported being sexually assaulted in a post-secondary institution during that same year.

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