NADIA DRISSI EL-BOUZAIDI
(University of Ottawa)
OTTAWA (CUP) — Yaneric Bisaillon, vice-president of university affairs of the International, Political and Policy Studies Student Association (IPPSSA) at the University of Ottawa, has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment during 101 Week in September.
IPPSSA wrote in a Facebook post that they became aware on Nov. 5 of, “serious allegations of sexual harassment made to one of our members, by one of the IPPSSA executive members during 101 Week.”
“I just wanted to say that I feel very victimized by the tone and the framing of the message Yaneric has put on Facebook,” said Arezoo, a first-year political science student, who said Bisaillon sexually harassed her. She does not want her last name published.
“He said, ‘I’m going to choke you in my bed,’ while looking right through my eyes and holding my shoulders in the middle of the dance floor,” she said. “I shouted so that the people around us would hear… that he threatened me with sexual assault.”
Arezoo said a close friend and another 101 Week leader witnessed the scene. She said Bisaillon replied by saying, “I was joking, it was just my tone.”
Bisaillon published a Facebook post on the morning of Nov. 6 in which he explained what he believes happened.
“I made an awful joke to a female and I deeply regret it,” he wrote. “In response to a comment made to me from a student who trusted me as a leader, I replied with what I felt at the time was a joke saying: ‘I will choke you.’
“I then laughed as sign of ‘I was sarcastic,’ and we all moved on. In hindsight, I realize how violent and hurtful my words are,” he wrote. “I realize how choking can be present in sexual and other physical abuse, but I did not mean that in a sexual way at all.
“In the following days, I will be taking the appropriate steps to make sure that everyone feels comfortable around me, and to ensure that I become a better person,” he wrote.
Camille Bourassa, a first-year social sciences student, said she witnessed the incident and she doesn’t believe it was sexual harassment. She said Bisaillon said, “I want to choke you in my bed.”
“It was a joke,” said Bourassa, “I remember I even laughed too, because that’s his sense of humour and it was just funny, and we changed subjects right after.”
Arezoo first met Bisaillon during the summer, and said he was “very helpful,” in preparing for university. She said friends told her not to get close to Yaneric because he would “hurt” her.
“I decided I wouldn’t judge him from other peoples’ experiences with him. I would give him a chance, and he showed his true colours during frosh,” said Arezoo.
She said she did not feel comfortable talking about the incident immediately afterward because she was new to the university and unaware of the resources available.
Arezoo posted a tweet on Nov. 5, after hearing the news of the two Liberal Members of Parliament who were fired due to sexual harassment charges.
“The man who made sexually abusive comments towards me happens [to be] running for NDP nomination. Will I name him? Yes. Will I make it partisan? No,” her tweet read.
Bisaillon said he drew out of the race before the allegations came to light.
“I had said on Facebook that I was going to run, but I was never approved, and the NDP never endorsed me. I told them today that I was off the list,” he wrote to the Fulcrum.
Stephane Mukunzi, president of the IPPSSA, reached out to Arezoo after reading her tweet.
“After this happened, I tried to reach the specific individual — Yaneric — and I didn’t. It was almost impossible to have a conversation,” Mukunzi said.
The IPPSSA executive team held a private meeting, according to Mukunzi, where “a consensus [was] reached” that Bisaillon should resign.
“He took the measures that he decided were adequate given the allegation against him,” Mukenzi said.
“We cannot stress enough that the IPPSSA does not condone any form of harassment,” read the IPPSSA statement.
The student federation announced plans to conduct an internal review.
“The last thing I want is to hide,” Bisaillon wrote to the Fulcrum. “I do believe that what I did is not sexual harassment and although absolutely wrong, I don’t want to go down for this. I hope that people can hear both stories.”
“It’s clear in the statement that he made [on Facebook] that he doesn’t really see the point in why his comments were sexually abusive,” Arezoo said. “It has to stop on our campus; it has to stop on Parliament Hill; it has to stop everywhere.”
Graphic: Stephanie Mah/Graphics Editor