November 16, 2018

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'Entirely possible' more people will bring allegations against former U of M music prof Kirby, police say

Winnipeg police say "it's entirely possible" more people will come forward with allegations about Steve Kirby — the former University of Manitoba music professor now facing a charge of sexual assault — as his case winds through the court system.

In June 2017, members of the sex crimes unit began investigating claims made by a former U of M music student who said she was sexually assaulted by a professor on a number of occasions between September 2014 and January 2017.

After nearly a year of investigation, Kirby was arrested on May 9, 2018 and released on a promise to appear. On June 22, he was charged with sexual assault, according to court documents. The allegation has not yet been proven in court.

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Tammy Skrabek said Kirby was co-operative with the investigation.

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Winnipeg police say "it's entirely possible" more people will come forward with allegations about Steve Kirby — the former University of Manitoba music professor now facing a charge of sexual assault — as his case winds through the court system. 

In June 2017, members of the sex crimes unit began investigating claims made by a former U of M music student who said she was sexually assaulted by a professor on a number of occasions between September 2014 and January 2017. 

MATT DUBOFF PHOTO</p><p>Steve Kirby</p>

MATT DUBOFF PHOTO

Steve Kirby

After nearly a year of investigation, Kirby was arrested on May 9, 2018 and released on a promise to appear. On June 22, he was charged with sexual assault, according to court documents. The allegation has not yet been proven in court.

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Tammy Skrabek said Kirby was co-operative with the investigation. 

"Before we could actually lay charges and arrest Mr. Kirby, the Crown was consulted to ensure that what investigators had was enough to actually proceed with charges in court," she told media Tuesday.

"So when the Crown confirmed that charges could be laid, the investigators did contact Mr. Kirby, who turned himself in. He came into the (police headquarters) and he was processed and he was released on a promise to appear."

Skrabek said she drafted a release about Kirby's arrest in May, but ultimately decided against publishing the news at the time.

"By releasing the fact that he was a professor at the U of M, we would have increased the likelihood that he and/or the victim would have been identified before charges were laid in court. Once he made (his) first appearance, the case became publicly searchable through the courts," she said in an email Tuesday. 

In a subsequent interview, Skrabek acknowledged police weren't trying to withhold pertinent information from the public — they simply forgot about Kirby's file over the summer. 

Skrabek assumed media would start asking questions about Kirby's charge after his first court appearance, scheduled for June 26. 

"So when his first appearance would be done, then it would be a public record. I had actually assumed media would be calling (sooner)," she said. "It just kind of sat on our desk and there’s really no, sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to why (the information wasn’t publicized)."

Police wouldn't say how involved the U of M has been in its investigative process or whether the school was looped in once a charge was laid. Skrabek said police spoke with members of the university about the case Tuesday morning.

U of M spokesperson John Danakas referred all further questions about the matter to police. 

"Only the police can speak (to) a specific criminal investigation. The University always co-operates with police if asked," he said in an email.

Meantime, Kirby's two-day trial is set for June 2019. Skrabek said other people with allegations about Kirby can come forward to police before then. 

"Any time you have somebody in a high-profile position, it’s entirely possible that there is somebody else who may have had contact and who may not have even thought about it at the time — just brushed it off as an inappropriate contact and didn’t think too much of it," she said.

"So we do anticipate that there is a possibility of further victims coming forward."

Kirby and his lawyer, Richard Wolson, have not yet responded to requests for comment.

When the Free Press called Kirby's home Tuesday morning and asked to speak with him, a woman answered and said, "Yeah, that's not going to happen — sorry, bye," and hung up the phone.

Jakob Sanderson, president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union (UMSU), said it seemed many students were caught off guard by news of Kirby's arrest and pending trial.

The news came the week after the U of M announced it's conducting five internal investigations about complaints of inappropriate behaviour from five faculty members. Three of the investigations are related to matters of sexual misconduct, with two of those pertaining to allegations of sexual assault. 

"This news has certainly been a point of conversation (on campus).... It’s not anything that any student wants to hear, of course. But I think if there’s some good that can come of this it’s that, as we’ve seen with the Kirby case, student safety has not always been the utmost priority. And I think we’re now hopeful that the administration is taking this more seriously and they are trying to move forward," Sanderson said. 

The U of M has said two of its faculty members are on leave pending their respective investigations.

Sanderson wondered why all three faculty members facing sexual misconduct complaints aren't on leave. 

"I’m OK with the confidentiality until due process is reached. But I think we would like to see any professors that are being under investigation for sexual misconduct... be put on leave while that investigation is pending, so students aren’t unknowingly subject to someone who is potentially not creating a safe environment on campus." 

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

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

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Updated on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 6:35 AM CDT: Comments turned off.

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