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High-profile assaults drive York University to increase campus security’s powers

Increasing the powers of campus security at York University won't solve the safety problems that have plagued the isolated campus at the city's northwestern edge, says the union that represents part-time and contract teaching staff.

York security staff have been summoned to a special morning meeting Thursday to discuss changes in their duties. The expectation from those familiar with the plan is that security staff will be granted new resources to do their jobs, including handcuffs and batons – standard issue at several Canadian campuses.

The York campus has been the site of several high-profile assaults against students, including the rapes of two students in their residence beds in 2007. The murder of a foreign student from China in a nearby housing development this spring made international headlines.

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"We think that batons and handcuffs don't address the issues of sexual assaults on campus," said Claire Major, a spokeswoman for CUPE 3903. "Increasing the powers of security doesn't address the issues of lighting and safe passage, or taking a look at why this campus lends itself to these kinds of assaults."

Last year the university released a safety audit that included several recommendations, and it has increased spending to $10-million from $8.9-million last year, university spokesman Wallace Pidgeon said. He refused to comment on Thursday's meeting, but said the school also plans to hire 12 new security staff.

Calvin Traynor, president of CUPE 1635, which represents security staff, said his members will be "quite pleased" with the new measures.

"This is something we have been working on for a long time. It's something that is going to make our members very happy," he said.

Campus security across Canada ranges from special constables with the power to use force, detain and make arrests, to private security services with no authority, said Terry Sullivan, director of security at Hamilton's McMaster University and head of the provincial group that represents campus security administrators.

Unlike York, several Ontario campuses, including McMaster and the University of Toronto, have special constables with authority granted from local police, he said.

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