Point: Everyone has a right to due process

By in Opinions

At the University of Saskatchewan, the purpose of the U of S Students’ Union is to serve the best interests of the undergraduate student body. This mission does not grant USSU executives the right to circumvent and ignore the rights and freedoms of select students and bypass due process.

I do not wish to make a stand as to whether or not the allegations against Coden Nikbakht are true. I do, however, wish to shine light upon the actions of the current USSU executives in the wake of the student-union elections last week.

I firmly believe that everyone, as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and regardless of the nature of the crime, has the right “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

There are many complexities and difficulties involved in the pursuit of legal courses of action for the victims of sexual violence, and these measures are often traumatic and fail to effectively serve justice. However, this is the society we live in, and these are the laws that we agree to abide by in exchange for our rights and freedoms.

The USSU executives acted wrongly when they publicly accused Coden Nikbakht without regard for the fact that the allegations are not yet proven. The right to make public accusations against an individual lands beyond the purview of the members of the USSU executive, and therefore, these accusations should not have occurred.

Such allegations should have been passed on to and handled by the relevant authorities, and to deny an individual equal treatment without a ruling is unacceptable. Not only did the USSU executives bypass the organization’s own bylaws with their interference but their actions also infringed upon the rights and freedoms of one individual student.

We live in a period of time where allegations of sexual misconduct, violence and abuse are issues of focus as well as a heartfelt concern for many. While my condolences go out to anyone who has been the victim of any such crimes, I believe that protecting our rights and freedoms should be of the utmost importance. When people stand up for their rights, it should not be labelled as victim blaming.

The public accusation of Nikbakht made by the USSU executives, without Nikbakht being proven guilty, is disgraceful. I am not condoning covering up crimes, but I believe that the accused should not be subject to a trial by their peers at the hands of a body such as the USSU.

The actions of the USSU executives have not made the U of S a safer place to study, but instead have created a contentious environment that infringes upon individuals’ rights and freedoms.

I call upon the USSU executives to come forward, apologize and acknowledge the fact that under no circumstances should the USSU infringe upon anyone’s rights and freedoms. Change should be achieved through perseverance and democratic channels and by utilizing the rights and freedoms granted to each and every one of us.

When those who oppose the status quo resort to unjustified tactics in an attempt to force change, we rationalize those behaviours as an acceptable means to achieve change, and that is the example we set for the students who will succeed us when we pass the torch.

The USSU executives have failed to set a meaningful example and have therefore not only failed us but also the generations who will follow us. They should use the energy of the student body to drive and foster change but only when they have the right to do so.

Brendan Dwan

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor

  • Rome

    Dwan states that the purpose of the University of Saskatchewan Student Union is to “serve the best interests of the student body” and that by publicly accusing the incumbent USSU president of sexual assault, rights of due process have been violated.

    However, if we take it to be true that the USSU represents the best interests of students, then we must also recognize that its acting members have a moral obligation to address the fact that sexual assault is frequently committed on college campuses and in larger Canadian society with near-absolute legal impunity. When the judicial procedures of due process are successfully carried out, Statistics Canada reports that they result in a conviction rate of three per cent. Approximately 98 per cent of accused individuals are male, and of the 1,000 men who commit this crime, only three will be convicted. This means that 997 walk free (source: Holly Johnson, “Limits of a Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Policing and Court Processing of Sexual Assault,” In “Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism,” ed. by Elizabeth Sheehy, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2012, Page 632; See also Statistics Canada, “Police-Reported Sexual Assaults in Canada, 2009 to 2014: A Statistical Profile,” Bullet point number five.)

    Yes, this is the “society” we live in – how well it functions is another question. Given this evidence, if we are to extend Dwan’s premise that “we” agree (meaning men, women, transgendered, genderqueer and gender non-conforming individuals) to strictly abide by the rules of due process in exchange for our rights and freedoms, then you are implicitly arguing that women do not have a right to a life free of sexual violence and the subsequent devastation of its psychological, physical, social and financial impacts; you are also inadvertently arguing that they do not have a right to recourse through the justice system. In short, they are not entitled to the same rights as men. And the victims *are* predominantly women – Statistics Canada reports that 87 per cent of victims are women (see same Stats Can doc as listed above). Sexual assault is the most gendered of crimes, and it is a faulty premise to assume that “we” all agree to legal procedures that clearly are not effective for the vast majority of victims (Johnson, page 613; See also Elaine Craig, “Putting Trials on Trial: Sexual Assault and the Failure of the Legal Profession,” Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018; Page 3).

    Your article also fails to satisfactorily acknowledge the larger structures that prevent reporting practices from working. While one in five women who attend a post-secondary institution will be sexually assaulted, the intense stigma and blame experienced by women, especially amongst their immediate family and friends, often discourages them from pursuing legal recourse (Johnson, 614). Sexual violence can be profoundly violating and traumatic, and post-traumatic stress is already intense without the additional layers of secondary trauma added by victim-blaming friends or family, as well as fears of social and legal retaliation if a victim speaks up (which can also be re-traumatizing). The university has chosen not to address the larger culture of victim-blaming and male retaliation, but it is a persistent obstacle in women coming forward. And, there is no evidence that university admin or the case managers who handle sexual assault allegations are trained in practices that are trauma-informed or survivor-centred, so how would a sexual violence survivor know they are not going to be re-traumatized as they go through the process of reporting? How would a survivor know they are going to be treated with care? No one in their rational mind would subject themselves to this.

    TLDR; Women have a right to be on campus and to engage in as many sexual and romantic relationships as they want (just like men! What a shock!) without fear of sexual violence. We have a right to pursue an education without it being seriously impacted or undermined because of sexual violence (just like men!) And if women are disproportionately the targets of sexual violence (which they are) and if “due process” and even university admin reporting are actively harming them through re-traumatization or are completely ineffective (which they are), we will create structures that work for us SO THAT WE CAN ENJOY THE SAME RIGHTS AS MEN.

    Also, Brendan, your condolences are not enough – they are meaningless unless you actually do something productive to counteract sexual violence. I want you to participate in tearing down the structures of male entitlement to women’s bodies and a lack of understanding of full and informed (non-coerced, non-manipulated, non-deceitful) consent that allows sexual violence to continue. Men need to start realizing their own complicity in the way they objectify and devalue women’s bodies and experiences. Change starts with you, so save your condolences and turn your words into action.