The news that two members of the 2013-14 University of Ottawa men’s hockey team have been charged with sexual assault is noteworthy. Justice is moving forward at the careful pace it always does in complicated cases like this. But the charges are also a reminder of how badly the case has been handled by the university’s president, Allan Rock, and how unconscionable it was for him to hang an entire team of young people out to dry over what we now know to be allegations against two players.
The charges date back to last winter, when the U of O team visited Thunder Bay for a two-game series against Lakehead University. The allegation of an assault involving multiple players was slow to come to light, but when it did, Mr. Rock acted quickly and within the bounds of reason. He fired the coach for failing to report the incident to the university, suspended the hockey program for an indefinite period and ordered an internal investigation. That was in March. When the internal investigation was completed in June, however, Mr. Rock unexpectedly announced that the hockey program would be suspended for another entire season.
The police in Thunder Bay had not laid any charges at that point, but it was well known that they were looking at no more than three players. Mr. Rock’s tarring of two dozen players, trainers and assistant coaches – some of whom were not even in Thunder Bay – with allegations affecting a few teammates was completely arbitrary, and even he knew it. “The shadow cast by the allegations of misconduct has affected all members of the team, some unfairly,” he lamented, but then asked in the next breath for the understanding of the unjustly treated players because of “difficult position” the university was in.
That understanding hasn’t been forthcoming, nor should it be. Some of the players have threatened to sue the university, which is understandable. Their university careers are directly linked to their hockey; many will have to transfer to other schools to continue their education this year. Their reputations have also been damaged; some have complained that summer job offers were cancelled after Mr. Rock effectively tarred them all with the same brush.
What did Mr. Rock expect? By suspending the program for another year, he linked the team – and each of the individuals on it – with a criminal investigation. And yet he has never had to courage to say that. On the contrary, he says some players have been treated “unfairly,” which would imply that what happened in Thunder Bay was not the result of an enabling culture but an isolated incident – which, by the way, is the conclusion of the university’s own investigator. Mr. Rock’s decision is more inexplicable than ever today. It reeks of injustice.
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