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This article was published 15/3/2019 (317 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ten months after former University of Manitoba music professor Steve Kirby was charged with sexually assaulting one of his female students, the criminal charge has been stayed — a decision the prosecutor says was made with the alleged victim in mind.
The 62-year-old acclaimed jazz musician retired from the Winnipeg university in June 2017 — the same month a woman went to police to file a complaint alleging Kirby had sexually assaulted her several times over the course of three years, starting in 2014, when the then-19-year-old was enrolled in the university’s music program.
She would have been called to testify during Kirby’s trial, which had been scheduled for two days in June. During a brief court appearance in front of a justice of the peace March 4, Crown prosecutor Mark Kantor said the case won’t go ahead.
"Further to the Crown’s ongoing review of this case, and having considered the views of the complainant, the Crown is directing a stay of proceedings on this matter," he said.
Kantor later told the Free Press he can’t provide any other details. In Manitoba, Crown prosecutors aren’t required to publicly provide reasons when they decide not to proceed with criminal charges.
Reached by phone Friday at his home in Winnipeg, Kirby declined to speak to a reporter.
"I can’t. Talk to my lawyer. No comment," he said.
His defence lawyer, Richard Wolson, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Rob Carver said Friday no further charges have been laid against Kirby.
The Free Press reached out to the young woman whose police complaint led to the sexual-assault charge, but she did not respond.
Although she has no specific knowledge of this case, Jerra Fraser, a counsellor with Klinic Community Health centre’s sexual-assault crisis program, said there are generally many reasons a sexual-assault survivor may decide not to go through the court process.
Klinic neither encourages nor discourages clients who are trying to decide whether to go to police.
"It’s always really personal," Fraser said, noting justice system principles built on protecting the rights of an accused person who may not be guilty can deter those who have experienced sexual assault.
"We know that individuals within the legal system often are really doing their best to be trauma-informed individuals, but as a system it can feel really intimidating and unintentionally uphold these practices that are rooted in societal myths about sexual assault," Fraser said.
"For some folks, using the legal system feels empowering and it feels like they get to tell their story, and it feels like they’re combating gendered violence and taking back their power. And for others, they get that need met in other ways."
The University of Manitoba conducted an internal investigation into Kirby’s behaviour, after students reported having experienced harassment and bullying. After news broke about the allegations — long after the musician had quietly left the school — university president David Barnard apologized publicly to any student who had experienced "such inappropriate behaviour," and announced five other faculty members were also being investigated for misconduct.
Three of the investigations are related to matters of sexual misconduct.
Kirby was arrested in May 2018, almost a year after the WPS sex crimes unit received the woman’s complaint and began investigating.
The university has since implemented clearer policies for the disclosure of intimate relationships between students and staff. The policies discourage, but don’t ban, such relationships.
"We have some concerns that an outright ban could infringe on the legal rights of adults to enter into consensual relationships," Barnard said in an interview Thursday.
"Our conversations are continuing and this will certainly be an ongoing area of focus as we address important questions with respect to these matters."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Friday, March 15, 2019 at 7:51 PM CDT: Final version