Once again, the UASU calls on the University of Alberta to take meaningful action against sexual violence. We reiterate our previous public and private calls to reform the complaint and investigation processes that often prevent survivors from coming forward safely.
Two current or former University of Alberta instructors — Ricardo Acuña and Patrick Howarth — stand accused of sexual assault.
"The UASU believes survivors," said Talia Dixon, UASU Vice President (Student Life). "Silence and lack of transparency often protect powerful institutions and individuals, and inflict further harm."
The UASU remains committed to speaking out against these longstanding concerns, including problems with reporting pipelines and sexual misconduct investigation mechanisms. The UASU has repeatedly called for action on these issues, and has asked both the University and AASUA to fix relevant problems in the AASUA collective agreement, which remains unchanged. Meanwhile, the hiring of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator (SVPRC) remains in limbo.
Students are deeply concerned to learn that Acuña has returned to his position as President of the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta (AASUA), despite a survivor’s private and public appeals for justice.
The UASU echoed the survivor’s appeals and called on the University and AASUA to take specific, long-overdue steps toward sexual violence prevention and response. Oxfam removed Acuña as the chair of the Oxfam Canada Board and a member of the Oxfam International Board, citing "an incident of sexual misconduct."
By contrast, AASUA placed Acuña on a brief paid leave and commissioned an unidentified third party to investigate. After speaking with the survivor, the UASU has serious concerns about the independence, mandate, and thoroughness of this investigation. The UASU has similar concerns about the University's handling of the situation.
We again call on Acuña to resign as AASUA President. In this position, Acuña holds significant power within the campus community and University governance. He plays a key role in the collective bargaining processes that control the extent to which instructors can be reported, investigated, and penalized for sexual misconduct.
As AASUA President, Acuña also plays a vocal role in the General Faculties Council (GFC), which includes more than 50 student members. "As long as Acuña sits on GFC," said Dixon, "many of us will feel uncomfortable and unsafe while we're trying to do our jobs."
As reported in major news outlets, Howarth has been charged in connection with sexual assaults that took place during his time as a University of Alberta drama instructor. Howarth has been a lecturer, visiting speaker, and research assistant, and is currently a graduate student. News reports indicate that survivors and their friends made disclosures to University leadership several times in recent years, apparently without result.
"'Someone who received a disclosure like that would be expected to act on it,"' said Rowan Ley, UASU President, "'and we have to create a community of consent.' I’m actually quoting our Dean of Students and Deputy Provost. We need to hold the University to those standards. Survivors are coming forward to say they made disclosures and nothing happened. Students should be able to trust the University to take action."
The Students’ Union is the official representative of more than 32,000 undergraduate students at the University of Alberta.
If you need to talk to someone and are safe to do so, you can call, text, or chat the Alberta One Line for Sexual Violence at 1-866-403-8000. Please also consider the many resources available through the Sexual Assault Centre's Virtual Resource Hub.
For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:
External Relations Specialist