SGPS opposes Code of Conduct enforcement off campus

SGPS VP Internal (Graduate) Toby Moorsom spoke at an Aberdeen symposium on Oct. 12 about what he called a “dual legal system” that goes easier on students than other Kingston residents.
SGPS VP Internal (Graduate) Toby Moorsom spoke at an Aberdeen symposium on Oct. 12 about what he called a “dual legal system” that goes easier on students than other Kingston residents.

The Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) has challenged the application of non-academic discipline for students who break the Queen’s Code of Conduct while they are off campus and not officially representing the University.

“There is a perception that … Queen’s students are subject to Queen’s laws and not the laws of the land, and Queen’s students are above the [law],” said Nicole Stephenson, SGPS VP internal (professional). “We don’t want to be seen as upholding this perception or promoting it.”

In their preliminary report on non-academic discipline, presented to the University Senate on Nov. 17, SGPS representatives brought forward a motion opposing a recommendation of the Principal’s Task Force on Community Relations. The recommendation asks both the SGPS and AMS to strengthen their mandate and resources for addressing non-academic discipline, with a focus on off-campus student behaviour. The AMS also presented their preliminary report at the meeting, as reported in last week’s issue of the Journal.

“We don’t feel there is a clear mandate, so we’re opposed to the recommendation,” said Dave Thomas, SGPS president.

Stephenson added that this position, which was developed by the five-member SGPS executive, was unanimously adopted by SGPS council, which is comprised of more than 60 members.

“If you’re a graduate or professional student, most people we’ve spoken with seem to agree the University has absolutely no jurisdiction over your behaviour if you’re in Montreal or wherever else,” Thomas said. “The SGPS certainly does not have the resources or the inclination to go patrolling and policing their members all over the world and bring them in front of tribunals at Queen’s.”

The SGPS’ one-page motion asks the University to define the Code of Conduct’s jurisdiction. It also outlines concerns about instituting the discipline system itself.

“What exactly does ‘off-campus’ mean?” Thomas asked. “Does that mean just off campus a block from here, does it mean downtown, does it mean Toronto, does it mean overseas?”

Toby Moorsom, SGPS VP internal (graduate), said he’s spoken to both students and a police officer who believe that students are not always subject to the same judicial system other residents are subject to, because they can instead be prosecuted through the AMS’s or SGPS’s non-academic discipline system.

“We really should oppose dual legal systems of any form,” Moorsom said. “I’m talking about bifurcated legal systems, which is another word for apartheid.”

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux, who presented the AMS’ preliminary review to Senate, said the discipline system is not a replacement for civil or criminal proceedings.

“If you’re a doctor and you do something that is dreadful—and it may have nothing to do with your profession, but it could reflect badly on it—the medical community will take it under advisement and you may face consequences, potentially expulsion for it, from that community,” he said. “But you will still face the laws of the land for whatever your crime was. It’s the same here.”

Moorsom said he doesn’t believe the system is complementary in practice.

Thomas and Stephenson explained the motion was largely based on a specific example brought to the SGPS last year, and subsequent discussions between Moorsom and a police officer.

Last year, an unnamed graduate student told the SGPS he had been assaulted in a Kingston McDonald’s restaurant by an unnamed undergraduate student after the graduate student told him to stop making racist comments towards an employee, Moorsom said. He said the undergraduate student grabbed the graduate’s glasses, stomped on them and then head-butted him.

“So we have both verbal abuse or assault, we have destruction of his property and we have a physical assault,” Moorsom said.

He was told by the graduate student that when a police officer arrived at the scene, charges were not laid against the undergraduate student.

“The argument of the police officer was they didn’t want to harm [the undergraduate student’s] future—they didn’t want to put him through a process that would likely entail him getting a criminal record,” Moorsom said. “If police are not going to charge students because they think they’re going to be subject to a non-academic discipline procedure on campus, then we’re talking about a different standard for Queen’s students than the rest of the community.

“And underlying that is that Queen’s students do not see the rest of the community as their peers.” Thomas agreed.

“We’re very concerned that if the police have this idea, ‘We’ll leave the Queen’s students alone [because] the University will take care of it,’ that’s where our concern about enshrining privilege comes [from],” he said.

Rabidoux, who has been involved in facilitating the discipline system for three years and was chief prosecutor last year, said that in his experience, the system has sometimes been victims’ only source of justice.

“Our experience has been that the system is what it was meant to be, and that was a complement to the civil and criminal justice systems,” he said. “I guess you could say there is a double standard, but it’s not a double standard that favours Queen’s students—it’s a double standard that holds students to a higher level of responsibility.”

Moorsom said that last month, after he recounted the incident as a panellist for a symposium on issues regarding the unsanctioned Aberdeen Street party, he was approached by Const. Brad Brooker, who attended on behalf of Kingston Police.

“Const. Brooker really agreed with me that this is the way Kingston Police act in these circumstances—that they’ve had a practice of feeling that these matters are the jurisdiction of the University, meaning that they’ve had a practice of not wanting to discipline via civil procedures,” he said.

Thomas said the SGPS believes it would be useful for the University to look into the case.

“We don’t know how far reaching this is, whether it’s just that one officer or whether it’s a general sentiment among the force,” he said.

Brooker was unavailable for comment.

Const. Neil Finn, spokesperson for the Kingston Police, said he couldn’t comment on the specific case without details. He did explain such a situation was possible.

“Each individual case is looked at in its merit, and each officer, is in charge of those cases,” he said. “It’s their decision, based on the facts, of what they should do.”

Finn said the way police responded to the incident described by Moorsom was the way they would have responded to any residents’ call to police.

“It’s just part of the investigation as to what you want to do,” he said. “You have to take the victim’s concerns into consideration, [and] you have to look, to a point, at the suspect’s situation as well. You put all that info together, and come up with a conclusion—whether its charges, no charges or whatever.”

Although police are aware of the non-academic discipline system and that it’s an avenue for resolution in some situations, there’s no unwritten rule that police won’t charge students, he said.

“I’ve never heard of [an officer] going to a call, a Queen’s student is involved in it, and advising [the victim] to go through the AMS,” Finn said, adding that’s not to say it’s never been done.

In a previous interview with the Journal, Insp. Brian Cookman said so far this year, police haven’t been sharing information about charges laid against students with the AMS Judicial Committee, to maintain students’ privacy.

At their meeting, Senate voted in favour of the Senate Committee on Non-Academic Discipline (SONAD) reviewing the SGPS submission.

Stephenson said the SGPS will not make any final statement about their position on the discipline system until they receive SONAD’s response.

Thomas added the SGPS have made the issue a priority.

“If the University is intent on maintaining some control over off-campus [discipline], and they will do that regardless of what position we take, then we will want to maintain some type of control over it ourselves,” he said.

Rabidoux said the AMS will continue to review their discipline system while they wait for SONAD’s response.

“We’re going to continue to strengthen it, because we’re of the opinion it does work on and off campus … and we will definitely, through our avenues, encourage SONAD and the Senate to leave it the way it is, or at least, for the love of God, wait until we’ve finished the review.”

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