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Canada Dalhousie gives police screen shots of dentistry students’ Facebook posts

Dalhousie University faced another communications snafu when some media outlets reported that it seemed reluctant to give up the posts to police.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Dalhousie University turned over more than 50 pages of screen shots from a Facebook group containing misogynistic exchanges between male dentistry students to Halifax police Wednesday as the force determines whether a criminal investigation is warranted.

The university, which has been trying to reduce the damage of this controversy since it exploded in mid-December, faced another communications snafu when some media outlets reported that it seemed reluctant to give up the posts to police.

It had said earlier in the week that it had not referred the Facebook pages to police because it did not believe there was any criminal wrongdoing in the posts, which were made by members of a private Facebook group – the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen.

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But by late Tuesday – amid some pressure by the police, which requested to see the pages – the university issued a statement by e-mail. "Dalhousie will always co-operate with the police on any matter," said university spokesman Brian Leadbetter in the statement. "Of course, Dalhousie will share the requested information with Halifax Regional Police in compliance with the law."

By Wednesday, Halifax police Constable Pierre Bourdages confirmed the posts – unedited and with no redactions – were in police hands.

"We have received the information we were looking for," he said. "Right now we are simply reviewing the information to determine if a criminal investigation can be launched or not."

So far, none of the female students in the class have come forward to police. Constable Bourdages says police are asking "anyone who may have been criminally victimized" to call them.

He does not know how long this process will take.

Dalhousie law professor Wayne MacKay, however, believes it will be difficult to find any criminal wrongdoing, given that the comments were intended to be private.

"Most criminal offences require both the action and the intent," says Prof. MacKay, who is an expert on cyberbullying and misogynist behaviour on university campuses, serving as chair of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Cyberbullying and also as chair of the President's Council into the sexist chant during frosh week in 2013 at Saint Mary's University.

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He cautions that he has not seen the Facebook screen shots.

"My thought would be that, to the extent they have become public, is more recklessness at best, not intent," he says. "To me, without seeing the detail, it seems to me that would be the big question: Was there some intent here to make this public?"

As police consider their options, the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) and the Gender and Women's Studies program are planning to hold a three-hour forum on misogyny Thursday. They are hoping about 500 people will attend.

Jennifer Nowoselski, vice-president, internal, with the DSU, says "we are really just hoping to have a broad conversation with folks about how we can transform the culture on our campus."

The dentistry students went back to classes this week with the male students involved in the Facebook group separated from the rest. They have been suspended from clinical activities – experience that is required for them to graduate.

In addition, there is a restorative justice process that some of the students are participating in and Constance Backhouse, university research chair in law at the University of Ottawa, was appointed to chair an external investigation into the environment at the dentistry faculty.

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