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The Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, March 16, 2016. (Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail)

The Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, March 16, 2016.

(Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail)

McGill hazing incident reveals university ban’s shortcomings Add to ...

The night began with a pillowcase being forced over the student’s head. Soon he was stripped down to his underwear, had vodka poured down his throat while his head was held back and ordered into sexual games with semi-nude female athletes, he says.

A McGill University student says he was forced to take part in a booze-soaked hazing ritual by the school’s basketball team, a clear violation of the Montreal institution’s assurances that it offers students a “hazing-free environment.”

The student’s experience indicates that 10 years after a high-profile hazing incident at McGill that prompted policy changes at the university, the top-ranked school has failed to curb the practice, was slow to respond once the student’s family complained and applied only minor sanctions against the students involved.

“It was a dream of mine to play university basketball,” the student, now 19, said in an interview. But the hazing set off a “downward spiral,” and he ended up eventually leaving the team.

The student requested not to be named.

McGill acknowledges that the hazing incident involving both the men’s and women’s McGill basketball teams took place in September, 2015. As a sanction, it put the women’s team – which just won the Canadian university women’s basketball championship over the weekend – on probation for the current season. The men’s team, which made it to the semi-final, was put on probation for both this year’s and next year’s seasons. McGill declined to provide details on what the probations entailed.

These sanctions fall short of the penalties announced with fanfare by McGill after the 2005 hazing incident. In that ritual, which caused a national uproar, an 18-year-old was forced onto his hands and knees and sexually assaulted with a broomstick.

Afterward, McGill announced a “zero-tolerance policy” and said any team engaged in hazing would automatically be suspended for the playing season. The school also pledged to closely monitor team activities to “ensure positive team-building activities and behaviours.”

The victim of the 2005 hazing ritual, D’Arcy McKeown, says the latest disclosures suggest McGill has failed to take the issue seriously. After his own initiation, Mr. McKeown left McGill to attend the University of Toronto, where he played for its football team.

“The fact that these events are still going on and not getting dealt with is astonishing for a university like McGill, which touts itself for its reputation of higher learning,” said Mr. McKeown, who contacted The Globe and Mail about the new incident. “Hazing is not conducive to higher learning. It’s not conducive to teamwork. It doesn’t help anything.”

Mr. McKeown and his family have supported the student involved in the basketball hazing, whose family turned to him for help. He says the basketball players in the latest ritual do not appear to have been adequately sanctioned.

“McGill can say they are against hazing as much as they want,” said Mr. McKeown, 30, “but unless they take action when it occurs, then they are just showing that they tolerate it.”

The new hazing incident dates to Sept. 19, 2015. The rookie player and a teammate tried to get out of attending the initiation but were told by a veteran player it had been going on for five years, and that if they didn’t show up, “it was going to be a long year for both of us.”

In a written statement provided to The Globe and Mail, the student says he met the older teammates at a prearranged location and was “jumped” by four or five players who threw a pillowcase over his head.

The recruits were driven to a basement apartment a few blocks from campus and forbidden from using their phones or taking photos. The student says that, with the pillowcase over his head, he was forced to drink four to six alcoholic drinks, of two to three ounces each.

The older players then removed the pillowcase and duct-taped a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor to his hand – the equivalent of nearly five beers. He was told to finish it in 20 minutes, otherwise he would have to start again. He said the drink had an alcohol content of 10.1 per cent, about double the amount for a standard beer.

Then, he says, vodka and other types of alcohol were forced down his throat by an alumnus despite his protests.

He says he and the other rookies were brought into another room and ordered to strip to their underwear. When they returned to the main room, he says, female basketball recruits were present in their undergarments. The male and female students were ordered to pop balloons between one another’s bodies in sexually suggestive positions.

The student athlete stumbled back to his dorm, shoeless. A friend checked in on him later and found him on the floor, unable to speak properly, his bed and the washroom covered in vomit.

The student did not report the incident. However, someone tipped off the family about it, and the family immediately raised its concerns with the university, according to Sheilagh McGee, who is D’Arcy McKeown’s mother, and is supporting the family.

Ms. McGee says it took until October last year – more than a year after the hazing – before the family obtained written assurances that the university was investigating the incident. The family kept pressing the university for action, even taking the matter up with the principal’s office, Ms. McGee said.

“They struggled for a year, hoping the university would do the right thing,” she said. “McGill holds itself up as the gold standard, with zero tolerance for hazing. But despite dozens of calls and e-mails, [McGill officials] kept delaying and delaying. They were trying to make it go away and keep it under wraps.”

In its statement to The Globe and Mail, McGill says it now plans to initiate a new anti-hazing program before the start of the next academic year. It says it has also set up a working group to recommend ways to prevent hazing.

Meanwhile, the student involved in the 2015 ritual says he decided to speak up in case other rookie athletes faced the same pressures he did.

“I’m not out to destroy anyone or get revenge against McGill or anyone at McGill, but I’m worried that something tragic is going to happen and I don’t want that on my conscience because I didn’t have the courage to speak up.”

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