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The Leci-Gaysford case raises questions about the extent of McGill University and other schools' responsibilities when assaults between students occur away from campus.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

A McGill University graduate told a courtroom she still suffers physical and emotional injuries from an assault by a male student nearly two years ago in a case that has placed the university under scrutiny for how it treats students involved in violent altercations.

Kathryn Leci told a sentencing hearing she suffered a concussion and continues to take daily medication for headaches and other afflictions since another student, Conrad Gaysford, punched her in the face in 2015 outside an off-campus party. The punch was so powerful she fell backward and hit her head on the pavement.

Mr. Gaysford, an international student from Britain who has since graduated, was found guilty of assault causing bodily harm in Montreal municipal court on Friday. A charge of criminal harassment was dropped.

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The case, which was first reported by The McGill Tribune, has led to criticism about how McGill handled the matter. While Ms. Leci suffered from continuing anxiety, hearing problems and other health troubles that forced her to temporarily withdraw from classes, Mr. Gaysford was able to pursue his studies and complete his degree.

The court heard the assault occurred in 2015, when Ms. Leci was a fourth-year chemical engineering student (she graduated in April and is pursuing a Masters in engineering at McGill). Mr. Gaysford was part of a group of male students who verbally harassed Ms. Leci and her friends on the street as they made their way to a party, sparking a verbal confrontation between the two. At the party, Ms. Leci happened to come across Mr. Gaysford again on the stairs leading inside, and another tense exchange followed.

Ms. Leci said Mr. Gaysford became aggressive without provocation and struck her in the jaw, knocking her unconscious. She was taken by ambulance to hospital and kept overnight. In testimony at the sentencing hearing, she said she suffered from headaches, memory lapses, vomiting and insomnia in the months after the assault. She began to struggle with her studies, leading her to withdraw from classes for several months in 2016 and temporarily return to her home in London, Ont. It delayed her graduation, she said.

"No court can provide what was taken," she said, her voice faltering at times as she recounted the toll of the attack. She entered a rehabilitation program in London to deal with her brain injury.

After his arrest, Mr. Gaysford was forbidden to communicate with Ms. Leci or to be within 25 metres of her. His lawyer, Richard Shadley, formally apologized on his behalf in court on Friday.

Ms. Leci expressed anger over what she says was an inadequate response from McGill. She says that Mr. Gaysford was subjected only to voluntary measures to stay away from her on campus, and she felt "crippling anxiety" over the idea of running into him. When Ms. Leci discovered he was returning to university to complete his studies last year, she found the prospect of crossing his path "terrifying" and avoided leaving her apartment unless she had to, she said.

She has said she was informed the university could not launch disciplinary measures against her assailant because the assault took place off campus so was not considered part of the "McGill context."

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The court had agreed to delay the formal guilty plea in Mr. Gaysford's case, allowing him to complete his studies. The sentencing hearing continues in October. Mr. Gaysford was allowed to recover his passport on Friday to enable him to fly home to London for the summer.

Ms. Leci filed a civil lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court on Friday against Mr. Gaysford, seeking $425,000 in damages for the "deliberate and unprovoked attack."

The case raises questions about the extent of universities' responsibilities when assaults between students occur away from the university. McGill would not discuss Mr. Gaysford's case. However, an official said the university is looking at revising its student code of conduct to address off-campus altercations and their impact on students.

"If something happens in the city but not on campus, but it involves members of our community, there the boundaries become blurrier," said Angela Campbell, associate provost (policies, procedures and equity). "We don't necessarily have jurisdiction to investigate and to impose any kind of sanction."

The university is reviewing its definitions of what constitutes the "McGill context." Prof. Campbell acknowledged in an interview that students will not always be happy with the university's response to concerns about their safety.

"Sometimes they wish we could do more. And many times we wish we could do more," she said. "But there are also issues of due process that we have to adhere to, in cases where sometimes the measures that are being sought are measures that would require us to encroach on the rights of someone who's responding to a complaint. And we can't necessarily take measures in that way without a fair and full process."

Victoria Kaspi's research focuses on pulsars, or neutron stars, the celestial objects left behind after stars die. She has been awarded the National Science and Engineering Research Council's Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science Globe and Mail Update
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