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Canada University of Ottawa sued over suspension of hockey team

University of Ottawa president Allan Rock, pictured with chancellor Michaëlle Jean, is named in a lawsuit over the suspension of the men’s hockey team.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The University of Ottawa is facing a $6-million lawsuit from its men's hockey team for suspending the team and ending its 2013-14 season after it acted on allegations of sexual assault by two players on the team. Those two players were charged in late August, 2014.

The other players "have had their reputations tarnished and their future careers damaged," states the suit, which names the university and its president, former Liberal justice minister Allan Rock.

Within a month of learning about the alleged assault, the university suspended the entire team. In June, after the release of an internal report from an independent investigator, it fired the team's coach and cancelled the 2014-15 season, arguing that the internal report showed the entire program needed to be overhauled.

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The lawsuit claims that the decision to suspend the team was made to guard the school's reputation and fundraising efforts, and violated due process and ignored the consequences on the players' lives.

As Dalhousie University faces scrutiny of how it has addressed misogynistic comments made on Facebook by male students in its dentistry faculty, news of the lawsuit shows that universities have to tread carefully when they deal with allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Students in the United States have launched similar lawsuits.

The lead plaintiff in the University of Ottawa suit is Andrew Creppin, a kinesiology student who transferred to the University of Ottawa in 2012 after playing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Mr. Creppin received an annual scholarship of $4,000 for maintaining an 8.5 grade point average.

The "scandal led to tension between [Mr. Creppin] and his family" and the 24-year-old "was harassed when wearing his team jacket," the suit claims. Even after the two players were charged, "the rest of the team suffered and continue to suffer the stigma of the scandal."

On the night of the alleged assault on Feb. 2, 2014, Mr. Creppin and other teammates were at a hospital in Thunder Bay where they had taken a fellow teammate "possibly due to excessive alcohol consumption," the lawsuit states. The two players alleged to have been involved in the assault and the player who was in the hospital were suspended for three games after the team's coach, Réal Paiement, learned of the allegations.

Mr. Rock was told about the events in Thunder Bay, and the university suspended the entire team several weeks later.

"Some players were so filled with anxiety they could no longer attend class and their marks suffered. Others were harassed. … Some team members lost their summer jobs," the lawsuit says.

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The school said in June that the report from investigator Steven Gaon found that some team members' behaviour "was not in keeping with the university's values." The university has refused to release the report, citing privacy concerns.

Two players on the team were charged with sexual assault in August, 2014.

At the time, the university's chancellor, Michaëlle Jean, suggested in a letter to Mr. Rock that every player needed to be helped to deal with the collective guilt they all felt. "They perceived guilt by association and it is certainly a large burden for a young person to experience," she wrote.

The university does not appear to have acted on Ms. Jean's idea in the fall. In a statement, it said counselling had been offered to the athletes on the team in March and June.

The University of Ottawa said on Tuesday it has not yet been served with any documents relating to a legal action on this subject and will review any legal documents when they are served.

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