Lindsay Shepherd retains a lawyer, fact-finding results released and task force is announced

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The polarizing debate between freedom of expression and human rights continues to envelope the Wilfrid Laurier University Waterloo campus almost two months since the situation surrounding Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd first occurred.

As a result of the magnitude of controversy within Laurier’s campus, it was announced in Nov. 23, 2017 that Laurier had hired Rob Centa, a partner at Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP, to conduct a fact-finding procedure in order to neutrally gather and assess the facts surrounding the Shepherd incident.

In correspondence, Deborah MacLatchy, president of Laurier, also created a task force in order to further explore issues surrounding freedom of expression.

In early December 2017, Shepherd retained a lawyer in order to protect her legally throughout the fact-finding process.

Howard Levitt, a Toronto-based employment lawyer, offered his services pro-bono to Shepherd. Levitt is a clear advocate for freedom of expression on campuses and has publicly criticized Laurier’s response to Shepherd’s case in the media.

Once Levitt was acquired by Shepherd, he reached out to both Centa and MacLatchy and it became known that there may be no existence of a formal complaint towards Shepherd’s tutorial in question.

“You asked for a copy of the complaint or complaints filed against your client. At this point in my investigation, I do not believe there is a document that contains a ‘complaint’ made about Ms. Shepherd nor is there anything I would describe as a formal complaint under any WLU policy,” wrote Centa to Levitt.

However, Centa also allegedly indicated to Levitt that his investigation was surrounding employment based matters, an important detail which Levitt says was left out of Laurier’s original mandate.

Despite this, Levitt was confident that there were no grounds for termination.

Soon after, Kevin Crowley, director of communications and public affairs at Laurier, released a statement regarding the nature of Centa’s fact-finding report.

“Laurier has engaged an independent fact-finder to establish the facts of the situation. We will need to receive his report before we comment on its findings. President Deborah MacLatchy made an unqualified apology to Lindsay Shepherd on Nov. 21. There is no assumption on the part of the university that Ms. Shepherd did anything wrong. All of the people at the meeting in question were and are employees of the university. Consequently, the independent fact-finding review relates to employment and personnel matters,” the statement read.

On Dec. 18, 2017, Deborah MacLatchy released an in-depth statement surrounding the results of the completed fact-finding procedure.

Student representation on the task force consists of Kanwar Brar, president and CEO of the Students’ Union, Natalie Gleba, president of the Graduate Student Association and Josh Hortaleza, undergraduate student and senator.

“I believe it is time for some clarity around the events of the past few weeks here at Wilfrid Laurier University, stemming from the very regrettable meeting that followed the showing of a TVO clip by a teaching assistant (TA) during a tutorial,” the statement began.

According to the fact-finding report, it was confirmed that there was no formal complaint found regarding the incident.

“There were numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting with Ms. Lindsay Shepherd, the TA of the tutorial in question. In fact, the meeting never should have happened at all. No formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video. This was confirmed in the fact-finding report,” the statement read.

According to Maclean’s Magazine, however, a student administrator from the WLU Rainbow Centre allegedly said that the complaint was originally made through the WLU Rainbow Centre.

“Toby Finlay, an administrator at the Rainbow Centre, wouldn’t share the specifics of the conversation due to confidentiality reasons, but adds: ‘It was through us that they made the complaint that led to the situation that blew up in the media,’” as reported by Macleans.

The Cord reached out to the WLU Rainbow Centre for further confirmation but they could not give any comments at the time.

Levitt intended on meeting with Shepherd to discuss the contents of MacLatchy’s statement after they both have digested the released information. However, it is currently unknown as to whether or not Shepherd intends on taking further action.

“My response to what MacLatchy wrote: I suspect [it] has everything to do with public pressure and donor pressure and alumni pressure and little to do with anything else,” Levitt said.

In his own opinion, outside of his representation of Shepherd, Levitt feels there is more to be said than what was included in MacLatchy’s statement.

“It talks about the need to enhance TA training and training and support for TA’s which, implicitly, I find critical.”

In fact, Centa did not interview Shepherd within his fact-finding procedure. However, he did allegedly speak to the three individuals present in the meeting with Shepherd.

“Given that they didn’t interview her … what new information do they have to make the statements that MacLatchy even made if they were only talking to one side in the argument? That leads me to believe this was merely a public relations memo, which doesn’t go nearly far enough,” Levitt said.

While Levitt personally feels that the three individuals should face further consequences, MacLatchy suggested in her statement that further action may be taken internally.

The details surrounding said action being taken in regards to the three individuals present in the meeting will be unknown to the public due to confidentiality reasons.

“I think that their conduct was reprehensible and I don’t see that reflected in the report,” Levitt said.

Furthermore, a group of students at Laurier, called the Trans Justice Collective, have been rallying in seek of an apology to trans people from MacLatchy due to the increase in transphobia present on campus since the situation was publicized.

MacLatchy reiterated in her most recent statement that the Laurier has taken steps to create supports for students from the LGBTQ+ community.

“It bears repeating in the current context that Laurier’s support for our lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and two-spirited (LGBTQ2S) campus community and transgender people in particular is unwavering. In light of recent events, we have created and communicated additional supports for LGBTQ2S students, faculty and staff, and added measures to improve campus safety,” the statement read.

“Today, we turn the page on a very unfortunate incident. We are here to make sure it does not happen again. We are here to put an end to the ongoing politicization of this issue,” read the final portion of MacLatchy’s statement.

On Dec. 21, 2017, Laurier released the individuals who were appointed to serve on the task force on freedom of expression.

Faculty members representing the Waterloo campus include Anne-Marie Allison, instructor (contract academic staff) from the Faculty of Science, Manuel Riemer, associate professor from the Faculty of Science, Anne Wilson, professor from the Faculty of Science and senator, Ali Zaidi, associate professor, Faculty of Arts and Kristiina Montero, associate professor from the Faculty of Education, senator and member of the Board of Governors.

Faculty members representing the Brantford campus include David Haskell, associate professor from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Marcia Oliver, associate professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Brantford campus

Student representation on the task force consists of Kanwar Brar, president and CEO of the Students’ Union, Natalie Gleba, president of the Graduate Student Association and Josh Hortaleza, undergraduate student and senator.

The task force is said to be finished their work by March at which point an open report with recommendations will be released.

The information in this story was originally published online at The Cord on Dec. 8 2017, Dec. 18, 2017 and Dec. 21, 2017.

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