Inside Queen’s response to needle spiking incidents

Internal emails detail the concern of the University and local businesses regarding date rape drugs

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
Students walking past Trinity Social on a busy night out.

This article discusses sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424.

In March 2022, the Queen’s community was gripped with headlines of students impacted by needle spiking incidents at a downtown Kingston bar, Trinity Social.

Needle spiking refer to instances in which perpetrators inject date-rape drugs. Documents and internal emails obtained by The Journal under a freedom of information request showcase the University’s internal response over the month of March.

“Just flagging for all of you that I have received two very concerning disclosures this morning—no sexual violence experienced but two separate incidents of female students being drugged, attempted drugging,” a March 7, 2022 email from Barbara Lotan, Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response (SVPR) coordinator, to Ann Tierney, vice provost (student affairs); Corinna Fitzgerald, assistant dean (student life and learning); and Norma Barrett, director (student conduct office) read.  

In the same email, Lotan said it had been a couple of years since she dealt with a needle spiking incident. Lotan then scheduled a meeting with one of the students later that day. 

On March 22, 2022, Lotan emailed Tierney; Fitzgerald; Stephanie Simpson, associate vice principal (human rights, equity, and inclusion); and Mark Erdman, manager (community relations and issues) saying a social media post indicated a “young woman [was] intentionally drugged by a needle stick.” 

The same email said Global News reached out to the director of the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC) for comment. Lotan acknowledged the trauma survivors would experience from these drugging incidents.

“Quick acting friends/others often probably prevented additional violence/assault from taking place by being aware and responding quickly,” Lotan said to the SHRC Director. “The impact of this type of incident is significant regardless of whether or not sexual violence is experienced.”

Both the SHRC Director and Lotan discussed the needle drugging phenomenon as something which occurred in the United Kingdom, and has slowly made its way to Kingston.

In the original email from Georgia Kersche, former SHRC director, to Barb Lotan, she requested statistics on Queen’s disclosures related to date rape incidents. 

“To protect the privacy of my clients, stats I collect are not broken down this way. They are aggregate. Certainly, I do hear information about experiences of drug facilitated sexual assault. The ‘drug’ most often referenced is alcohol,” Lotan said. 

“The presence of the drugs and the types of drugs are really hard to confirm for a number of reasons, so any stats are inaccurate at best.”  

March 25, 2022, saw John Saris, co-owner and operator of Trinity Social, reach out to Lotan following the publication of stories about rising needle drugging incidents. 

“We’re looking to access any available resources and develop some of our own programs in house to raise awareness, keep people safe, and reduce our liability,” Saris said to Lotan. 

In subsequent conversation, Saris acknowledged the issue of needle drugging is becoming a larger problem in Kingston. Based on email records obtained by The Journal, a meeting between Lotan and Saris occurred. 

No information about the contents of the meeting or resource development and partnership between Queen’s and Trinity Social could be determined at time of publication, as Saris declined to comment for this story, and an interview was not provided by Queen’s. 

“Queen’s contacted the venue in question as part of our due diligence on the incident.  The university is committed to keeping students safe, protected, and supported, and continues to offer a number of relevant supports for students, including bystander intervention training,” Queen’s said in a statement to The Journal.

Other local establishment owners didn’t return The Journal’s multiple requests for comment. 

Kingstonist Editor in Chief Tori Strafford reached out to Queen’s for comment on the needle spiking incident on March 28, 2022. Queen’s Integrated Communications team connected her with Lotan for an interview.

On March 29, 2022, Kevin Deluzio, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, reached out to Queen’s Student Affairs to see if any messaging had gone out to students. At that time, Queen’s Be Well reposted a post made by the SVPR office on social media in response to Global News reporting on the issue.

Months later, in June 2022, Lotan emailed Jane Lewis, a team lead at Kingston Health Sciences Centre asking to meet to discuss the needlestick incidents. 

“I am concerned about what the fall brings,” Lotan said.  


bars, Date rape drugs, FIPPA, Internal, investigation, Sexual Assault, Stages, SVPR, SVPRC, Trinity social

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