November 20, 2018

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Former U of M music prof arrested, charged with sexual assault

Steve Kirby has been many things to the University of Manitoba. He was an acclaimed jazz musician who brought star power to its music program. He was the centre of harassment claims that embarrassed the school in the era of #MeToo. And now the Free Press has learned Kirby has been criminally charged with sexual assault — in a case that has been quietly moving through the courts for several months.

On Monday, Winnipeg police confirmed they received a student's complaint about Kirby in June 2017, at which time the sex crimes unit became involved in a "historic sexual assault investigation," Const. Tammy Skrabek said.

“It was reported that a female student, who was 19-years-old at the time, was enrolled in the music program in the University of Manitoba and was sexually assaulted on a number of occasions. The incidents occurred between September 2014 and January 2017,” Skrabek said by email.

Kirby, 62, was arrested on May 9, 2018, for sexual assault as a result of the ongoing Winnipeg police investigation, Skrabek said. He was released on a promise to appear and his case is scheduled to go to trial next June.

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Steve Kirby has been many things to the University of Manitoba. He was an acclaimed jazz musician who brought star power to its music program. He was the centre of harassment claims that embarrassed the school in the era of #MeToo. And now the Free Press has learned Kirby has been criminally charged with sexual assault — in a case that has been quietly moving through the courts for several months.

On Monday, Winnipeg police confirmed they received a student's complaint about Kirby in June 2017, at which time the sex crimes unit became involved in a "historic sexual assault investigation," Const. Tammy Skrabek said.

Kirby during his tenure as Director of Jazz studies at University of Manitoba in 2004.

JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Kirby during his tenure as Director of Jazz studies at University of Manitoba in 2004.

"It was reported that a female student, who was 19-years-old at the time, was enrolled in the music program in the University of Manitoba and was sexually assaulted on a number of occasions. The incidents occurred between September 2014 and January 2017," Skrabek said by email.

Kirby, 62, was arrested on May 9, 2018, for sexual assault as a result of the ongoing Winnipeg police investigation, Skrabek said. He was released on a promise to appear and his case is scheduled to go to trial next June.

Kirby, a U.S.-born jazz bassist and academic, joined the U of M in 2003 and later received tenure. He retired effective June 27, 2017, according to the university.

Multiple students reported allegations of harassment and bullying behaviour by Kirby to the university, which launched an internal investigation in turn and determined many of the complaints had merit.

In the wake of the Kirby scandal, the university took the unprecedented step last week to reveal five faculty members are currently being investigated for inappropriate behaviour — three singled out with sexual assault or sexual harassment allegations.

University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor Dr. David Barnard speaks at a media conference on issues related to campus sexual violence at the University of Manitoba last Wednesday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor Dr. David Barnard speaks at a media conference on issues related to campus sexual violence at the University of Manitoba last Wednesday.

U of M President David Barnard then issued an apology to any student who experienced "such inappropriate behaviour."

Barnard also acknowledged last week the university provided Kirby with a letter of employment that could have been seen as a letter of recommendation to future employers when Kirby quietly left the school.

Kirby was briefly hired at the acclaimed Berklee College of Music in Boston. His contract was terminated last fall when the scandal broke.

During his last scheduled court appearance in September, Kirby’s lawyer Richard Wolson said a two-day trial was set based on the Crown's intention to call one witness. If there were more than one witness, the trial would take more time, he said.

Police wouldn’t say Monday whether they are currently investigating any other faculty members at the U of M, citing a number of concerns, including protecting any victims’ identities.

The university wouldn’t confirm whether it had referred any of its pending faculty investigations to police.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

John Danakas, a spokesperson for the U of M, pointed out the school’s sexual assault policy recommends victims take the reins when it comes to reporting matters to police, if they so choose.

"Where possible, a person who has experienced sexual assault will retain control over the process of reporting a sexual assault. However, the University also has an obligation to protect the University Community from harm," the school’s policy states.

According to the U of M's compensation disclosure report, Kirby received more money in his last half-year of employment — he left the university in late-June 2017 — than he did for the entire year. Kirby earned $155,944 in salary and benefits in 2017, compared with $134,255 in 2016.

In 2012, the university featured Kirby in its ‘pioneers’ advertising series, calling him a world-renowned musician and "powerhouse of a man" who pioneered the first jazz studies program in western Canada.

Winnipeg police arrested another U of M associate this summer, who faces numerous charges related to possessing, importing and distributing child pornography.

Members of Winnipeg police’s internet child exploitation (ICE) unit arrested and charged Trevor Pemberton, a 39-year-old assistant professor in the U of M’s department of biochemistry and medical genetics, on July 9.

Pemberton was detained in custody and his case expected in court Tuesday.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Monday, September 10, 2018 at 8:11 PM CDT: Adds photo

9:40 PM: Fixes typos

September 11, 2018 at 9:32 AM: Fixes tile photo

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