The restorative justice process under way at Dalhousie University does not mean that the school has ruled out expulsion for the 13 male students who wrote misogynistic posts on Facebook, said Richard Florizone, the school's president.
Pressure on the university increased on Friday as a noon rally demanded that the university take stronger action than it has to date.
About 200 people carrying signs reading "Dalhousie hates women" and "Shame on You President Florizone" protested.
"We all agree there must be serious consequences and there will be. … Everything is on the table. If the women are not happy, if we are not happy," Dr. Florizone said.
It was the choice of the women who complained about the posts to the university to pursue an informal avenue, the president emphasized. The university and the school of dentistry are now working on a plan to ensure that no student, faculty member or patient feels unsafe.
In spite of campus opposition, legal experts say restorative justice strategies can give victims more say, and have been shown to reduce post-traumatic stress.
"Restorative justice is victim-centred, it asks who has been harmed and what are their needs in a way that is not done by the criminal justice system," said Brenda Morrison, a director of the Centre for Restorative Justice at Simon Fraser University and an assistant professor in the school of criminology.
The Globe and Mail has obtained a copy of the Facebook screen grab that was sent to the university as part of the complaint against the male dental students.
Mr. Florizone says the issue was first brought to the university's attention on Monday, Dec. 8.
In a cruel twist it appears that the page, showing an online poll about "hate" sex with the female dental students, was posted two days before – on the 25th anniversary of the massacre of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal by Marc Lépine.
The page shows that the posts were made on "Sat" at 5:52 p.m. – and then deleted the next Friday – on Dec. 12. A source close to the issue says that it was the hate-sex post that finally provoked the complaint.
The screen grab also names 12 dental students in the Facebook group. And in one other post, a male student asks "his colleagues to vote on who they would have "sport" sex with.
Students at the rally wanted the men who wrote the posts expelled.
"If they really did take an active role in this misogyny they do need to be expelled," said Jacqueline van Nieuwenhuizen, a Dalhousie graduate student, about the fourth-year students involved in the Facebook group that posted the sexist remarks. "They are just months away from being practising physicians in society and if these were practising dentists they would have lost their licences."
Expulsion, however, does not address the damage done by sexually offensive or violent comments, Dr. Morrison said.
"By pushing [offenders] away, we don't learn what are the other issues we need to address, from the individual harm, to the systemic. If we send the person and the problem out the door, we don't take that opportunity to learn."
In the United States, restorative justice approaches have been used to minimize expulsions from public schools, address bullying and lower rates of imprisonment.
According to the university's website, Dalhousie uses restorative justice to address incidents of underage or public drunkenness, damage to public property, and criminal offences like disorderly conduct or minor physical assaults. A student who undergoes a restorative justice process has to write letters of apology and do community service, among other measures.
Nova Scotia residents at the rally said they want more from the university. Amy Downie's husband has two degrees from Dalhousie, her daughter is in her third year of the health promotion program and her son was just accepted as a student. "I've given Dal my best," she says. "I want better from Dal."
Some day, she said, she will have grandchildren and she will make "damn sure" that they do not get treated by anyone from the class of 2015.