Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 19/12/2018 (360 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The University of Manitoba says it’s updating its rules and training after a series of sexual harassment allegations and investigations against faculty. However, provincial privacy laws may stifle any move toward transparency.
"The bottom-line reality is that privacy law in Manitoba, together with the rules of labour relations in Manitoba, pretty much preclude the university from saying anything about an investigation against an individual. They can’t do it," said Karen Busby, director of the Winnipeg school’s Centre for Human Rights Research.
Busby is part of the university’s review, but was speaking from her own perspective.
On Wednesday, U of M president David Barnard reiterated his apology for the school’s "failures" in handling sexual harassment allegations.
He wrote in his year-end message that he briefed the board of governors last week on internal and external reviews of U of M policies around sexual assault, respect and handling complaints.
Barnard wrote that these will include "development of a guide on intimate relationships, and significant enhancement of our education and training on these topics for faculty and staff."
But his message did not mention moves to increase transparency, despite privacy rules playing directly into one of the school’s harassment allegations.
Jazz professor Steve Kirby left the U of M after a sexual harassment investigation and was hired by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which U of M never told about the probe because of provincial privacy legislation. Berklee fired Kirby after students contacted the U.S. school themselves.
Kirby was arrested by Winnipeg police in May. He was charged in September with sexual assault on a U of M music student for alleged incidents that occurred between September 2014 and January 2017, police said.
Busby said her university’s hands are still tied in trying to give students and complainants information about these sorts of situations.
"I’ve done academic articles on it — because I hate it — I’ve really struggled with the questions around privacy law. And I have really wanted to say to the university: ‘You’re hiding in the foxhole of privacy.’ But it’s clear, when you review the provisions in the privacy acts across the country, including in Manitoba, that universities can’t disclose information about ongoing investigations, or the outcomes of those investigations," she said.
"As crazy as that sounds, that’s clear in the law, and it’s up to provincial governments to change that."
A Manitoba government spokesman, who refused to be named, wrote that the province "is committed to the values of openness, accountability and transparency of government operations."
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The spokesman said officials are undertaking the legislated provision of the existing privacy law "to ensure its accuracy and effectiveness in making public information available and protecting personal information."
Bureaucrats are reviewing the recommendations they received, but have no deadline.
In any case, the province has tasked all universities with revising harassment policies, and Busby said her colleagues are taking it as an opportunity to learn from policies developed elsewhere.
"You cannot read into the fact that we’re reviewing our policies, that that’s an admission of a problem," she said.
Busby believes the spate of allegations that emerged this year are a sign of people feeling more comfortable coming forward, and faculty better understanding the rules.
Privacy rules stymie transparency: prof
Karen Busby, director of the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba, believes Canadian post-secondary institutions can’t provide adequate information about harassment.
This summer, the University of British Columbia was ordered to pay author Steven Galloway some $167,000 in damages through an arbitrated settlement, after the university violated his privacy rights in making public statements about his 2016 firing.
Busby feel some of the details disclosed seemed innocuous, but Canada has privacy rules that are at times too strict.
As an example, she said Manitoba’s rules are so rigid people can’t legally write a reference letter without consent from the person involved. The ability to do so was included in the Personal Information Protection and Identity Theft Prevention Act, which a PC MLA tabled and was passed under an NDP government in Sept. 2013 — yet neither the previous nor current government have put it into force.
The Manitoba government could not immediately say Wednesday whether it plans to proclaim the 2013 bill.