Why it’s impossible to understand what happened until we’re given real answers
Over the past week, hundreds of Dalhousie students endured questions from family and friends about the misogyny scandal at their university. Because the details of this scandal have been communicated so poorly by university administration, these students were not able to give informed answers.
Cross-referencing all public information surrounding the scandal, it is impossible to string together a cohesive narrative of how Dalhousie responded to complaints launched this month against a Facebook group comprised of 13 fourth-year male students in Dalhousie’s Doctor of Dental Surgery program where some of them, possibly all, posted misogynistic and sexually violent messages that sometimes targeted their classmates.
As Dal has remained in the national spotlight for sad, embarrassing reasons over the last almost two weeks – leading to incidents like a Dalhousie-trained doctor in Ottawa hearing his alma mater casually referred to as “the rape school” – our community deserves a more articulate response from university administration as to what has happened.
Last week, I compared all the public information I could find on the case of the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen and pointed out some of the contradictions that emerged. While my questions from that investigation have not yet been answered, further research and new information has led to new questions.
Because of this story’s extreme length, I have organized its content accordingly: a summary of new questions surrounding the dentistry scandal is followed by a demonstration of research with each question from the summary explained below. Finally, I present my conclusions.
Summary of new dentistry scandal questions
- Why has university president Richard Florizone used the term “formal complaint” to mean different things on different occasions?
- Why are there so many differences in Florizone’s multiple timelines?
- Why would Dal News publish a story on the evening of Dec. 15 that says Dalhousie would consider its options over the next 48 hours if 15 is, as Florizone has said, the day the restorative justice process began?
- Why did Florizone tell multiple media outlets on Dec. 16 that the university was still considering its options for discipline and gathering information, when it was later revealed that the restorative justice process had already started on 15?
- If Dalhousie administration was still considering options other than restorative justice to be pursued parallel to the restorative justice process, what influenced their decision to not pursue other options?
- If Dalhousie administration was not considering options other than restorative justice, why would Florizone not tell this to the media?
- By Florizone’s account, women came forward who elected for restorative justice on Dec. 15 after the media first broke the story. This would have been after 4:55 p.m. when the CBC’s story was first published. Shortly after 7 p.m. on Dec. 17, Florizone said the restorative justice started “48 hours ago”. He also said on Dec. 17 that all 13 men in the DDS Gentlemen group met with these women.
- Could it be possible that women complained, decided on restorative justice, and met with all 13 men from the group between 4:55 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 15?
- If this truly happened, then why did Florizone publicly commit to investigating potential disciplinary measures on Dec. 15?
- If it did not happen, is it possible the restorative justice process started before any of the women targeted by posts in the DDS Gentlemen group actually met with the men and were assured the men would participate in restorative justice?
- Could it be possible that women complained, decided on restorative justice, and met with all 13 men from the group between 4:55 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 15?
- Florizone said at his Dec. 17 press conference that an investigation operating parallel to the restorative justice process would be “against the wishes” of (an unmentionable number of) women students who were harmed, but we know some affected women have said restorative justice is not appropriate.
- Why would the wishes of the women who want restorative justice take precedence over those who don’t?
- Were the women who opted for restorative justice ever actually offered the option of having a parallel investigation be launched, which they declined?
- If they were not offered this option, could they now be offered it?
- If all of the women who opted for restorative justice did not explicitly decline having an independent investigation run parallel to restorative justice, why did Florizone assume that having a parallel investigation would be against their wishes?
- If he had to meet with the women to be assured they wanted restorative justice, why did he only meet them two days after the restorative justice process started?
- Why would he be assured all affected women wanted restorative justice by meeting only two women out of a class that has 19 women?
- Does Dalhousie possess the same screenshots that have been obtained by the media?
- If so, why would Leadbetter have not known about these screenshots?
- If not, what evidence do they have of the group’s activities?
- Are women being expected to formally explain how they may have been harmed by the group while the university has not provided them with any screenshots of the group, or even a notification as to whether they were specifically mentioned in the group?
- The deadline for this questionnaire is Jan. 2 at noon, but classes resume Jan. 5. How will Dalhousie determine an appropriate reaction within this timeframe?
- If this questionnaire is Dalhousie’s formal attempt to determine harm caused by the group, but it was sent on Dec. 19, why was Florizone emphasizing that restorative justice was the choice of the women “most directly affected” by the group on Dec. 17?
- This questionnaire was only sent to women in the fourth-year dentistry class – was it only women in the fourth-year dentistry class who were directly targeted by the posts in the DDS Gentlemen group?
- If so, how was this determined?
- If not then why did other women not receive the questionnaire? And why did Florizone say the situation was most difficult for “the women in our fourth-year dentistry class who were the subject of these deeply offensive comments made in a Facebook group by fellow students”?
- Given that Dal’s dental clinic’s January opening was postponed as a result of the DDS Gentlemen group, and fourth-year dentistry exams were postponed because of the group, haven’t the men in the group posed a threat of interference to the operations of the University? Why did Florizone decide to not give an interim suspension to any of the men in the group for any period of time?
- Did this announcement of the figure of 13 violate students’ confidentiality?
- If not, why can’t the number of women who agreed to restorative justice also be announced?
- If the women affected by the group did not have all material available to the university shared with them, how would they be entrusted to make a well-informed decision as to what discipline should be pursued at all? Why would they not be “absolutely confused” if what was actually discussed in the group was not revealed to them?
- Florizone said multiple times on Dec. 17 and 18 that the women most affected by the group opted for the restorative justice process, and it was later revealed at least four women in the class have come forward saying restorative justice is inappropriate. Are these women “absolutely confused”?
1. Florizone creates confusion by using “formal complaint” in different capacities
This situation is a complex one that deserves precise language when being discussed by Dalhousie administration, but this hasn’t been the case at all.
The Coast has reported that Dalhousie first became aware of the problems on Dec. 8 when “faculty were told a formal code of conduct complaint had been lodged.”
At his press conference on Dec. 17, Florizone told the media no students had “come forward with formal complaints yet, but they may.”
In a Dec. 18 CTV interview, Florizone was asked if restorative justice was “the choice of all the women involved”.
Florizone answered, “All of the women who brought forward formal complaints. Now we do know, through the media, and women who I’ve spoken with, that there may be others who have other complaints.”
The sexual harassment policy, which restorative justice is being pursued under for an unknown number of women, offers two options for complaints: an informal resolution process, and a formal complaint process.
In his CTV interview, when Florizone said “All of the women who brought forward formal complaints,” he may have meant “all women who came forward under the sexual harassment policy” – but this is mere speculation, and he used the term “formal complaint” loosely during the entire interview. At another point in the interview, he said, “But I wanted to start first with the women who are most affected by it, who brought forward the formal complaint, who came forward.”
Compounding the situation, on Dec. 22 The Coast reported that Dalhousie Director of Communication Brian Leadbetter said in the nine months he’s been director of communication for Dalhousie, he hasn’t been aware of “any sexual harassment complaints or investigations in the dentistry faculty.”
Would that include the complaint from Dec. 8 that Florizone acknowledged on Dec. 17?
2. Florizone repeatedly asserted the university was considering different disciplinary options on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16, but on Dec. 17 said the restorative justice process was ongoing since Dec. 15
While introducing the concept of restorative justice at his Dec. 17 press conference, Florizone said the process had been ongoing since Dec. 15:
“Now, in this particular case, what has happened over the past few days is that a number of the women have elected to proceed with a restorative justice process under the policy’s informal resolution procedure. And in fact, this process is already underway in the next couple of days. It’s been underway the last couple of days.”
He also said the process had been ongoing for two days during the question period of the conference. When a reporter asked, “Did they meet with the women, the men, directly?” Florizone responded, “Yes. And they have already, the process has been underway for two days.”
But from the first comments he made in his initial report on Dec. 15 until the evening of Dec. 17, every comment Florizone made in his own report and in media interviews indicated Dalhousie was actively investigating disciplinary options to pursue – restorative justice was not mentioned at all until the Dec. 17 press conference.
In the first report he released on Dec. 15, Florizone began his message, “On behalf of Dalhousie University, I want to express my deep disappointment and concern with reports of offensive comments shared in a social media group about female students in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Dentistry.”
This message was published about seven hours after the CBC’s first story on the group, and Florizone’s emphasis is on “reports” of offensive comments, not the comments themselves. There is no indication in his initial report that the university knew about this group in the preceding week.
His statement on Dec. 15 also said, “Over the next 48 hours the university will consider the full range of options available to us to address these serious allegations.”
On Dec. 16, multiple media outlets showed Florizone saying Dalhousie was still considering a range of options.
CTV published a story on Dec. 16 portraying Florizone as saying he only discovered the situation on Monday, writing:
“Dalhousie president Richard Florizone says he was first made aware of the situation on Monday, and says the language in the posts ‘is frankly just entirely unacceptable.’ ”
The story shows the university still considering its options, saying:
“The school is considering what other moves it will make in response to the allegations, including whether to hand out suspensions.”
The same day, the Chronicle Herald published a story saying the university had only started an investigation on Tuesday.
“A day after the existence of the group — Class of 2015 DDS Gentlemen — was made public, the university on Tuesday started a 48-hour investigation regarding the members of the group and the women mentioned on the web page,” says the Herald’s story.
The Globe and Mail ran with the same narrative. Their story on Dal’s initial decision-making on the situation, published on Dec. 16, says:
“[Florizone] is considering a range of options, including expulsion, but said in an interview Tuesday that he is “really focused on gathering the information at this point.” He is also concerned about the female victims – and says he will be guided by “what is best for the women who have been harmed by this and how we can best redress that harm.” ”
While Florizone has since indicated numerous times that a complaint was first launched regarding the group on Dec. 8, he has not indicated when the university first obtained any screenshots that may have depicted the activities of the group.
While The Globe and Mail’s Dec. 16 report shows Florizone acknowledging the university first learned about the situation from a student complaint in the preceding days, it does not indicate whether Dalhousie had any screenshots of the group:
“Dr. Florizone said that, in the last few days, a student had come forward to the administration with a complaint about comments on a Facebook group. As this was being investigated, screen captures of the pages with the disturbing comments leaked to the CBC, and the controversy blew up overnight Monday.”
If there was only a complaint being investigated on Monday, and Dalhousie didn’t know the extent of the complaint because they didn’t have any screenshots of the group then, how could they have decided to start restorative justice before they even examined evidence of the group’s activities?
The restorative justice process as outlined by Florizone and Dalhousie law professor Jennifer Llewellyn means all 13 men in the group must have consented to the process for it to start, and Florizone said on Dec. 17 that all men in the group had met with (an unmentionable number of) women in fourth-year class.
Is it possible this meeting occurred, and did the restorative justice process started, before Dalhousie administration even knew the extent of the group’s content?
And if Dalhousie administration did have screenshots depicting the group’s actions on Monday, why would no one have made an effort to consult with all women mentioned in the screenshots before Florizone went public saying he had met with the women “most affected” by the group?
If it’s the case that some women who came forward on Dec. 15, as well as possibly the initial complainant from Dec. 8, had agreed to a restorative justice process, and the process began for them on Dec. 15 – and Dalhousie administration decided they were set on not pursuing any other options for investigating the case in the meantime – why would Florizone have told every media outlet he spoke with on Dec. 16 that the university was still in a process of gathering information and considering options?
And if it’s the case that on Dec. 16, Dalhousie administration had agreed on restorative justice for some of the women in the class but they were still considering pursuing alternative options like an independent investigation or trying members of the group through the student code of conduct, why did they decide to stay with only the restorative justice process?
At his Dec. 17 press conference, Frances Willick of the Chronicle Herald asked Florizone for clarification on Dalhousie’s timeline for handling the case:
Willick: This came to the university’s attention last week, and I understand there was sort of a process going on then […] but it wasn’t until the media shone a light on this story that this 48-hour investigation started. Why didn’t that investigation start as soon as the complaint came to the awareness of the university last week?
Florizone: Well, thank you, actually, the process was underway. Again, I want to clarify in the statement, that these processes are always confidential. We have to protect both the parties who are making a claim and the parties, all the parties involved. And so the process had started. And the process remains confidential. What changed is that there became a broader public interest in this, and so we felt we should communicate the process. We’re still keeping everything confidential in terms of the people, but we felt that we should update you on the steps that we were taking because this became a matter of broader public interest.
Further questions about the timeline arise when it’s considered that Florizone said restorative justice was decided on Monday, after women students in the fourth-year class came forward after the situation was first reported in the media.
In the Dec. 18 CTV interview, Florizone said Dalhousie’s handling of the situation was already underway on Dec. 15, “And what changed is, once it became public, what did change is more women came forward and elected this process and that’s where we moved to.”
If it’s the case that women in the fourth-year dentistry class came forward on Dec. 15 after the CBC broke the story, and restorative justice was first decided on that night, there are two possibilities.
- None of the women who were mentioned in posts by the group met with the group of 13 men participating in restorative justice before the restorative justice process was settled on.
- The 13 men in the group did meet with the women who came forward that elected for restorative justice. But for this to have happened, this means that between 4:55 p.m. when the first story on the situation was published and 7 p.m., 48 hours before Florizone said the restorative justice process had been ongoing for two days, the following events occurred:
- At least two women in the fourth-year dentistry class saw the CBC’s story
- They complained to Dalhousie about the group
- All the women who complained elected for the informal resolution process under Dal’s sexual harassment policy after receiving some amount of information about their options for pursuing a complaint
- All the women elected for a process of restorative justice after being shown any possible number of options for pursuing an informal resolution process
- All 13 men in the group were explained the restorative justice process and agreed to pursue it
- A meeting was organized between the women who complained on this day and all 13 men in the group
- The women and men met up and agreed on the restorative justice process together
The unlikelihood of this second scenario is bolstered by the fact that Dalhousie’s official Twitter page first shared a link to the Florizone’s initial report at 11:34 p.m. on Dec. 15.
Assuming Dalhousie’s communications staff would not publish such an important message unless it was current and completely accurate, we are led to believe that the university was still committed to a plan of “considering” the full range of options available” to “address these serious allegations” over the next 48 hours.
But after a reporter asked Florizone at his press conference on Thursday if he could name any possible outcomes of the restorative justice process, Florizone said he was hesitant to speculate and he wants the restorative justice process to determine “the best remedy”.
Florizone finished his answer saying, “We are looking to this process to help us identify the best remedy for the victims most directly impacted by this.”
The reporter’s follow-up question was, “Did they meet with the women, the men, directly?”
Florizone immediately responded, “Yes. And they have already, the process has been underway for two days.”
No context was given either by the reporter or Florizone as to what women met with what men, but Florizone’s answer in its context implies all 13 men taking part in the restorative justice process met with all women “most directly impacted” by the group.
Florizone began his Dec. 17 press conference saying:
“So this has been a very difficult few days for so many people, but I want to emphasize, as I did in my statement, that it’s been particularly difficult for those most directly impacted – the women in our fourth-year dentistry class who were the subject of these deeply offensive comments made in a Facebook group by fellow students.
If he equates “all women in the fourth-year DDS class who were the direct subjects of posts made in the DDS Gentlemen group” with “those most directly impacted”, then why would he say the men of the group have met with the women unless all women in the class had met with all the men from the group?
It’s possible Florizone misunderstood the reporter’s question, where criteria for “the men” and “the women” had not been defined.
But did the restorative justice process start without the 13 DDS Gentlemen ever meeting any of the women affected by the group? And when did all 13 men consent to participate in restorative justice?
- Florizone says there’s no independent investigation because it would be “against the wishes” of women who wanted restorative justice, but it’s unclear whether anyone explicitly said they did not want an independent investigation
Some people have suggested Dalhousie begin an investigation under the student code of conduct, or bring in an independent investigator to suggest a method for handling the situation, but Florizone gave his reason for opposing these options on Dec. 17.
At the press conference, Frances Willick asked Florizone, “Why doesn’t the university just start an investigation on its own in tandem with this?”
“Well, the students, again, I come back to the process here that the students have elected. I articulated that principle of victim-centred justice. The students have elected to go this route, and so we need to respect and to support that. There will be resources, there will be university personnel engaged in the process, that may involve gathering information. I think the issue becomes, do you launch a parallel process over top of it against the wishes of the women students who were harmed by this? And that’s what we’ve chosen not to do at this time.”
So, his answer was that no investigation was launched in tandem with the restorative justice process because it would be “against the wishes of the women students who were harmed” by the group.
But we have heard multiple examples in the media of women in the fourth-year dentistry class who are saying restorative justice is not an appropriate solution.
So if any women who have been affected are saying they would like an independent investigation, or for the men to be tried under the Student Code of Conduct by Dalhousie – how could Florizone say these options would be against the wishes of women affected by the group?
If the answer is that some women affected have wished for no independent investigation to occur, how has it been determined that their preferences take precedence?
(Of course, this consideration must be viewed in the light that we do not know how much information was shared with each woman in the class, and both the CBC and The Coast have reported stories of women from the class who discovered they appeared in the group’s postings but were not informed of this by Dalhousie.)
4. Dalhousie decided on restorative justice for affected women who had not been consulted, while saying the women “most directly affected” had been consulted
On Dec. 22, the Globe and Mail published a story revealing a questionnaire had been emailed to some (or possibly all) women in the senior year of the DDS program.
Melissa MacKay, Dalhousie’s acting adviser for Harassment Prevention/Conflict Resolution, says in the email that the university has “been exploring options” and has decided on the restorative justice process, according to the Globe and Mail.
If this email says that the university has decided on the restorative justice process, that is a direct contradiction of Florizone’s claims that (an unmentionable number of) women involved in the case were the ones who opted for restorative justice after considering their options available under Dalhousie’s sexual harassment policy.
We also know at least one woman directly targeted by the posts said on Dec. 18 she was not contacted by Dalhousie and believes restorative justice is not enough action on the part of the university.
As well, at least one female fourth-year dentistry student has come forward to Florizone with a complaint saying she does not want to go forward with a restorative justice process, according to Florizone in the Dec. 18 CTV interview.
And The Coast has reported on a woman who is not comfortable with the restorative justice proceeding as it has been explained. She did not seek or receive consent to elect to an informal restorative justice process, and she has explained why she doesn’t want to go public or formally complain:
“Another woman contacted The Coast before this article was published. She is one of the women featured in derogatory posts on the group Facebook page. She wanted to emphasize that Dalhousie did not seek or receive her consent before electing to an informal restorative justice process, and she’s not comfortable proceeding with that process as it has been explained. As of right now, she’s not coming forward publicly or with a formal complaint because she’s concerned it will affect her academic standing and career.”
So, some women directly targeted by the group were not contacted about their opinions on restorative justice before this method was chosen.
We also know some women came forward to the university with complaints of sexual harassment in the faculty of dentistry unrelated to the DDS Gentlemen group this summer, but they elected to not pursue complaints because they could not be guaranteed anonymity.
5. A Dalhousie spokesperson was not able to confirm that all women targeted by the group were consulted by Dalhousie – so what information are women who were targeted by the group supposed to file a complaint with?
Florizone’s report on Dec. 17 concludes, “As we approach the holiday season, our thoughts are with our faculty, staff, students, alumni of the Faculty of Dentistry and their families.”
While it’s nice to know the “thoughts” of Dalhousie administration are with the students in the faculty of dentistry, did they ever provide the women in the fourth year of the DDS program with the “screenshots” that would inform them as well as possible on what the DDS Class of 2015 Gentlemen group really looked like?
While it’s difficult to imagine how women would be able to file a formal complaint under Dalhousie’s sexual harassment policy without naming a specific incident of harassment, the public has received no indication that any women in the fourth-year class received from Dalhousie any material pertaining to the content of the group, or even if they received a notification as to whether Dalhousie knows if they are mentioned in the group or not.
The Coast reported that on Tuesday, Dec. 16, Dalhousie administration called an emergency meeting of the dentistry school’s class of 2015.
Students were invited to attend “voluntarily and confidentially, to address matters in the media,” according to The Coast.
The Coast reported on Dec. 22 that Dalhousie spokesperson Janet Bryson said she had “no idea” as to “whether the university informed all the women mentioned in the Facebook group what was said about them.”
The Coast also reported that they learned “at least one woman attended the emergency meeting last Tuesday who had no knowledge at the time she had been talked about in the Facebook group”.
So, were the women in the fourth-year DDS class not informed as to whether they were mentioned in the group?
Were they not supplied with all of the screenshots in Dalhousie’s possession so as to reassure them they’re making an informed decision when being consulted for input on how the men in the group should be disciplined?
If the women in the class were expected to meet with the DDS Gentlemen before they had any of this information, how is anyone in Dalhousie administration comfortable saying these women were consulted as to what they really want to happen, and why was Florizone saying this as early as Dec. 17?
At his Dec. 17 press conference, and in the Dec. 18 CTV interview, Florizone said he encouraged anyone who has a complaint to come forward. But what material would these complaints be based off of if women had not received adequate information as to what was going on in the DDS Gentlemen group?
- The most-shared clip of Florizone’s Dec. 17 press conference is completely misleading
The clip of Florizone’s Dec. 17 press conference that earned the most airtime is the clip with the most emotional power, but it contains nothing reassuring or informative.
Florizone is heard saying:
“I think we’ve tried to be guided by these principles that we laid out 48 hours ago. In particular, I have found that choosing these options, amidst the many voices, listening to the voices of the students most directly harmed by this, those women […] and meeting with them personally today, because of course, this route, when I say I’m taking a victim-centred approach, that implies that I’m providing assurance to this community that we are following the wishes of these women. And so I wanted to meet with them personally. To understand, because I felt that only I could judge by seeing them close-up for myself, that this is the route they wanted to take. And that’s the decision I stand by.”
Where an ellipsis occurs in the above quote, Florizone had to step away from the microphone because he was lightly crying.
But what is he actually saying in this clip? He’s saying he met with “the students most directly harmed” in person earlier in the day, while at another point in the conference, he said he has only met with two of the women in person, also earlier in the same day. So he’s talking about two women, not all women in their senior year of the DDS program.
Florizone is saying he had to meet with these women in person to be assured that they actually wanted a restorative justice process – but in the same press conference, he says the restorative justice process started “48 hours ago”, two days before he met any of the women in person.
In this clip, Florizone emphasizes how important it was for him to meet these women to be assured that the situation was being dealt with appropriately. But judging by a story published by the Metro on Dec. 17, it’s not clear that Florizone had any intent to participate in the investigation into this group until the matter became public when the media started paying attention:
“[Florizone] said a complaint was brought to his attention by a student within the past week and it was being dealt with under the school’s harassment policy. But Florizone said he became more involved when more information became public Monday.”
- Florizone says the restorative justice process started before he had reviewed all available material on the DDS Gentlemen group
The Globe and Mail reported on Dec. 16 that Florizone had not yet seen all the available material surrounding the group. He’s quoted as saying, “I haven’t reviewed all the material but I have seen enough to know that it is entirely unacceptable.”
He also said on Dec. 17 that the restorative justice process had begun on Dec. 15.
Why would the restorative justice process have started on Monday night if Florizone had not yet reviewed all the material available? The CBC told the Gazette they are in possession of “45+ screenshots”.
How many screenshots does it take over an evening to review when the very content of the screenshots is what is determining the disciplinary fate of 13 senior dentistry students alleged to have joked about using medical equipment for sexualized violence? Wouldn’t the severity of the screenshots determine whether urgent action like an interim suspension is required?
According to a story published by the Chronicle Herald on Dec. 16, Florizone said that while Dalhousie was in the process of looking into the situation on Monday, “the full extent of it wasn’t known until the public release [Monday] night. So that’s why we’ve gotten much more engaged once we saw the seriousness of some of the comments.”
How could the “full extent of the situation” have been known on the evening of Dec. 15 if Florizone did not review all available material by Dec. 16?
And at his Dec. 17 press conference, Florizone said dentistry exams had been postponed because the extent of the situation was still unknown. After a reporter asked, “How can this class even go forward?” Florizone responded:
“That’s a good question. It is, in this process, still an open question. I’ll say, that in 48 hours ago, based on that, the determination that we made is that did not want to schedule exams because we didn’t know the extent of this, and we didn’t want individuals, we didn’t want women students, particularly, to be seated in an environment where they feel threatened, where they had been victims of this type of complaint.”
At what point was the full extent of the situation truly known?
- There may be a discrepancy between the screenshots possessed by Dalhousie and the media
Before we can ask how much information and how many screenshots were shared with each woman in the class, and what material Dalhousie reviewed before going forward with their decision to pursue restorative justice and no other options, we need to ask how much information Dalhousie actually has.
On Dec. 22, The Coast published a screenshot where, in their words, “One current instructor is lauded for being ‘under more heat for sexual harassment than anyone since’ a previous faculty member.”
According to The Coast, Dalhousie Director of Communications Brian Leadbetter said Dalhousie “wasn’t aware of the Facebook group’s comments about faculty members.”
How, then, is it possible Dalhousie was not aware of the comments about faculty members?
For this to be the case, the only possibilities are they do not have the same screenshots that have been given to some media, or they did receive these screenshots but they did not closely read them.
If it’s the former, is Dalhousie not making a concerted effort to receive the same screenshots that have been made available to the media? Because wouldn’t the severity and content of the screenshots influence their perspective on how this situation should be handled, and whether a student code of conduct violation has occurred?
If it’s the latter, why would they not be closely reading every screenshot in their possession so they could best determine the optimal solution?
- Dalhousie plans to decide the rest of the semester for fourth-year DDS students in less than three days
Dalhousie posted a news bulletin on Dec. 22 saying the university’s public dental clinics would be closed until Jan. 12, 2015, and that “The Faculty of Dentistry and School of Dental Hygiene are working on a detailed plan for classes and the dental clinics for the remainder of the term.”
If this plan would include input from the women of the fourth-year dentistry class, the university is only giving itself three days to consider their contributions.
The Globe and Mail reported the questionnaire was sent to “the fourth-year women dentistry students targeted in the misogynist Facebook comments made by 13 male colleagues”.
The questionnaire asks, “How have you been impacted or harmed by the group?” “Please provide as many harms as you can identify, these may include harms to yourself or others around you,” it says, and asks students if they have “a sense of the remedies needed for the harms [they’ve] expressed.”
If Dalhousie has set Jan. 2 at noon as a deadline for this questionnaire as the Globe and Mail has reported, this means they have decided they are satisfied with not knowing how the women who answer the questionnaire feel until then.
Dentistry classes are scheduled to resume on Jan. 5, three days after the cut-off point for the questionnaire. Assuming all 19 women seniors in the fourth-year DDS class answer the questionnaire, this is what Dalhousie is planning to do in fewer than three days:
- read and compare all 19 sets of answers
- prepare a suitable course of action based on the results
- communicate this course of action to the students
- address any comments or concerns the students may have
- resume classes in a way that satisfies all students in the fourth-year class
How is it possible for all of this planning, communication and organization to occur in fewer than three days?
Additionally, minutes of this year’s meetings of the Dalhousie Dentistry Student Society (DDSS) show that students in the fourth year of the DDS program regularly work with students in lower years at Dal’s dental clinic and through society projects.
Was it determined by Dalhousie that only women in the fourth year of the program were targeted in posts by the DDS Gentlemen?
If so, then Dalhousie has a list of all women who were targeted. Why would they not have all been consulted?
If Dalhousie did not determine whether even a single woman in the DDS program who is in a lower year was mentioned in any of the posts, why didn’t all women in the DDS program receive information and questionnaires as a precautionary measure, because they could be expected to return to work alongside these 13 men through the clinic and the DDSS?
10. The public is assured there will be “significant consequences” while it’s possible the only consequence faced by men in the DDS Gentlemen group is “showing respect for women in a group setting”
After not appearing in the media since Dec. 19, in the afternoon of Dec. 22 Florizone returned to Twitter with an 11-tweet speech, starting with an apology for his absence from Twitter.
Apologies for my absence on Twitter. This has been a terrible time for our community. 1/11
— Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
The women affected remain our first priority. Based on all the facts to date, we believe we are on the best path forward. 2/11
— Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
The entire community is suffering as a result of this unacceptable behaviour. This complex issue is part of wider societal discussion. 3/11 — Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
We respect those seeking immediate action, but we are committed to ensuring a just process. There will be significant consequences. 4/11 — Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
Restorative justice is an effective approach for determining consequences & repairing harm in a variety of sensitive situations. 5/11
— Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
If you have questions about restorative justice, you can ask us here: http://t.co/GkRzyfkNpG. 6/11
— Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
Dal dentistry clinics will be cancelled until Jan 12, 2014. We will contact patients directly to reschedule. 9/11
— Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
Thank you for your comments – we are listening. 10/11
— Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
We must collectively work towards ending misogyny. 11/11 — Richard Florizone (@DalPres) December 22, 2014
One of his messages reads: “We respect those seeking immediate action, but we are committed to ensuring a just process. There will be significant consequences.”
This tweet made its way into a CBC headline, “Dalhousie head promises ‘significant consequences’ in Facebook posts scandal”.
This is while we’ve already been made aware that one possible outcome of the restorative justice process is that the process could be resolved before the planned date of graduation, and the entire class could graduate as expected without any of the 13 men being disciplined. How is that a “significant” consequence?
We have also been informed the results of the restorative justice process will remain confidential unless all parties involved agree on sharing certain information with the public, so there’s no assurance the public will get to see any consequences occur.
11. Florizone makes it sound like the only option available that would be just is restorative justice, while many community members are saying they want a process that is not immediate but is also not only restorative justice
There are other issues with that same tweet. While some groups and individuals have called for immediate expulsion of the men, it’s not outside of the powers of Dalhousie administration to pursue discipline through the student code of conduct without immediately expelling anyone, or to call for an independent investigation.
A just process that does not put the impetus on women affected by the posts, that could still result in real discipline for (possibly only some of) the men in the group, is entirely possible.
Even the online petition to expel all the men in the group doesn’t call for immediate expulsion. The petition, which has attracted over 45,600 signatures at the time of publishing, calls for an independent investigation that would lead to the men “being held responsible for their actions,” which the petition’s author and signees believe would be expulsion:
“As an alumna of Dalhousie University, I believe in having a transparent and independent investigation in which those that are found guilty of having broken the code of conduct will be held responsible for their actions.”
And over 220 members of the Dalhousie community, including people employed by all 12 faculties at Dal, have signed onto a petition against misogyny and gendered violence initiated by Dr. Françoise Baylis, a Dalhousie professor and Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy.
The statement calls for an external investigation into the case of the DDS Gentlemen:
“The response to the systemic causes of sexualized violence must include the appointment of an Independent Committee of Inquiry composed entirely of external members to investigate, to consult with all relevant stakeholders, to issue a public report, and to make recommendations to all appropriate institutions and organizations.”
Again – these are more concerned community members asking for different action than has been taken while suggesting a just process that would not be “immediate”.
Still, it’s worth considering there are provisions in Dalhousie’s own policies that allow for immediate action to occur. Section F of the Code of Student Conduct outlines emergency situations where the university president may impose an interim suspension on students.
The policy says students may be immediately suspended “to ensure the safety and well-being of members of the University community or preservation of University property”, or “if the student poses a threat of disruption or of interference with the operations of the University or the activities of its members.”
The dental clinic’s January opening has been delayed as a result of the posts in the DDS Gentlemen group, and the fourth-year dentistry exams were postponed until January. These are disruptions of the operations of the university, but Florizone opted to not go for an interim suspension of the DDS Gentlemen instead. Why?
12. Dalhousie’s official restorative justice Q&A contains circular logic
Another one of Florizone’s reappearance Tweets linked to a new Q&A page about restorative justice on Dal.ca. There’s an interactive form where you may ask questions about the process.
One of the questions asked was, “Why isn’t this being processed under the Student Code of Conduct?”
Ok, but why was the situation being dealt with under the sexual harassment policy? This Q&A reads like it could be found in a Franz Kafka story.
The only actual answer we have received as to why Dalhousie did not pursue an independent investigation or an investigation under the student code of conduct in parallel with a restorative justice process is hopelessly unclear.
This is the reason as it’s been stated by Dalhousie administration:
- An unmentionable number of women targeted by posts in the DDS Gentlemen group complained about being mentioned in the group after the CBC reported on the group on Dec. 15.
- After they came forward to Dalhousie, (and we do not know if the university offered anyone the option of an independent investigation occurring or members of administration trying the group’s messages under the Code of Student Conduct), these women opted to participate in a restorative justice process.
- It would be “against the wishes” of an unmentionable number of these women to have an independent investigation run parallel to the restorative justice process. (though we don’t know if any of these women actually said it would be against their wishes for a parallel investigation to occur or if this option was made clear to them)
That is not a narrative that could be condensed into a Q&A without real answers being given, so instead of leading readers to a deeper understanding of the situation, the Q&A delivers a bureaucratic deferral.
13. Florizone has been silent for over a week
Florizone has not appeared in the media or made any public statements since his Dec. 22 Twitter posts.
Shortly after his Twitter reappearance, the Gazette replied with some of the questions from our Dec. 21 investigation, and other people posed questions as well.
Florizone did not respond publically to anyone’s questions over Twitter, or to the Gazette through any private communications mediums.
In his Dec. 17 report, Florizone wrote: “Respecting the wishes of all parties involved, I ask for our communities to give our students and university administrators the time to complete their work through the restorative justice process and forge meaningful, responsible outcomes.”
As long as there’s no guaranteed timeline for the completion of the restorative justice process, and no promise the wider Dal community will ever know the results of the process, this statement translates to, “Please do not ask questions about what is happening.”
Is it true that all parties involved wish that no one asks any students or university administrators about this situation? If so, then why would women from the fourth-year dentistry class tell the media they don’t believe restorative justice is appropriate?
14. Did Florizone violate the privacy of some men in the group?
A recurring theme in Dalhousie’s communication of the results of the cases emphasizes their commitment to protecting the privacy and confidentiality of all parties involved in the case.
When a reporter asked at the Dec. 17 press conference how many women had come forward with complaints, Florizone deferred the question to a legal counsel present.
She said the number of women who had come forward could not be given, “because given the amount of information that’s been publicly available through the media, if you were to identify the numbers, it would be very easy to identify the individuals.” She said it would violate Dalhousie’s obligation “to maintain the confidentiality and privacy of the individuals.”
But when Florizone asked if he could say how many men were taking part in the restorative justice process, the same legal counsel did not hesitate to say yes.
Florizone proceeded to say with confidence that all men in the Facebook group, 13, were taking part in the restorative justice process.
But up until this point, the public had no validation from Dalhousie as to how many men were in the group, or how many were participating in the restorative justice process. Florizone could have denied answering how many men were in the group and simply said it was “all men” in the group, but instead gave the public a concrete figure.
The closest figure the public had up to that point was “at least a dozen” as reported by the CBC, so the figure of 13 was a new piece of information that points towards the possible identities of these men.
The only way this wouldn’t be a violation of student confidentiality, according to the logical parameters set by Florizone, is if all 13 men agreed that they would let this number become public before he announced the number on Dec. 17. It’s possible this agreement did occur, but if it did, this has not been communicated to the public.
If the 13 men had not agreed to have the figure of 13 be published, but Florizone saying this on Dec. 17 is not considered a violation of confidentiality, then why it is it a privacy violation for the number of women who agreed to restorative justice as of Dec. 17 to be made public?
15. Do sexual harassment complaints to deans not make it past deans?
The Coast, publishing on Dec. 22, reported that Brian Leadbetter said in the nine months he’s been Director of Communications for Dalhousie, he hasn’t been aware of “any sexual harassment complaints or investigations in the dentistry faculty.”
“I’m not aware of any specifics regarding an investigation,” he said. “I do know that it did come to our attention, I believe it was the end of last week, with respect to the video that was shared in the class.”
According to the CBC, a dentistry professor screened a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model video during a class earlier this year, which led to two students complaining to the dean of dentistry and an apology email from the professor to all students in the class.
The video is below:
Florizone said in his Dec. 18 CTV interview he had been made aware of the swimsuit video incident “within the last day,” which was when the CBC story was published.
I reiterate from my last story – why would a complaint of sexual harassment that reached a dean not reach the university president?
Tom Boran, dean of the faculty of dentistry, has still not appeared in the media to address these events, and has not released any statements through Dalhousie. Why not? The faculty of dentistry released two similar letters on Dec. 19 and Dec. 22, with no names signed to them. The second letter announced Dalhousie’s dental clinic was being closed until Jan. 12.
16. The Dalhousie Dental Student Society has remained silent and removed content from their website
The Dalhousie Dental Student Society (DDSS), that represents all Dalhousie students in the DDS program, has still not released any statement since this situation first came to the light. Some members of the society’s executive council are men and women in the fourth year of the DDS program.
The page of their website that lists the members of executive council, and the page that links to the minutes of their meetings this year, have been removed in the last week. No members of the executive council responded to the Gazette’s emailed requests for comment on Dec. 26 or Dec. 27.
Charlotte Dickie and Thomas Steeves, Dalhousie Student Union representatives for the DDSS, declined to comment for a Gazette story on Dec. 16.
17. Dalhousie professor says she’s worried the media is spreading misinformation about restorative justice while Dalhousie’s own official communications are contradictory
On. Dec. 23, the Chronicle Herald reported that Jennifer Llewellyn, the Dalhousie law professor who will be overseeing the restorative justice process, is worried about misinformation surrounding the situation:
“Llewellyn said she worries there’s been an excess of misinformation and fear mongering in the media around the restorative justice process. A formal disciplinary process would be more adversarial, have fewer options and could be more difficult for the victims, she said.
“I need us to be more careful about the harm we might be doing to these people who are absolutely confused and now terrified and feeling a bit overwhelmed by everybody else’s judgment about what should happen.” ”
If Llewellyn is concerned about misinformation in the media, has she considered the fact that anything the media would have reported about the restorative justice process would likely contain misinformation because it would rely on the direct contradictions that have been coming out of Dalhousie’s official communications?
This is a case that the media holds an obligation to report on on due to its obvious immense public interest. But as I am outlining in this story, and as I have previously outlined, multiple direct contradictions in the narrative have emerged through Dalhousie’s own communications to the public and the media.
The only way a completely honest story could be written about this case right now would be for a journalist to spend two days cross-referencing all public information on this situation, outlining the contradictions, listing the questions that emerge from their analysis, asking Dalhousie administration for the answers to these questions, and publicly sharing their questions with the public in the hope a louder public interest will urge answers from Dalhousie.
That is what I am attempting here, and I hope my efforts are satisfactory for now. But very few reporters have the time to focus on a single story for so long, so in the meantime, the mainstream media publishes stories that do not question the contradictions in Dalhousie’s communicated narrative(s).
Even in this story where she is shown citing her concerns on misinformation surrounding the restorative justice process, Llewellyn is quoted as saying, “I need us to be more careful about the harm we might be doing to these people who are absolutely confused and now terrified and feeling a bit overwhelmed by everybody else’s judgment about what should happen.”
If Dalhousie isn’t expecting to hear the formal concerns of the women in the fourth-year dentistry class until their questionnaires are returned as late as Jan. 2, how can anyone definitively say they are all “absolutely confused” and “terrified” and “feeling a bit overwhelmed by everybody else’s judgment about what should happen”?
And if some of the women may be feeling “absolutely confused”, well, has that been remedied by Dalhousie sharing as much information as they have on the DDS Gentlemen group with every woman involved?
In the meantime, the public who desire to know what is happening at Dalhousie are left with stories saying the university’s president promised “significant consequences”, and that “expulsion is still an option,” while it’s almost certain the results of the restorative justice process will not be made public.
The public has clips broadcast to them where the president of Dalhousie cries while talking about meeting with women who were targeted in posts by the Gentlemen group, while he only met two women in person and the timeline he outlines in this clip is contradicted by other statements he made within the same press conference.
And the public hears in many media reports that Dalhousie said “many women were consulted and chose restorative justice”, while it’s true that:
- the number of affected women who opted for restorative justice could be as low as two
- more than two affected women have said they do not believe restorative justice is appropriate, but they were not offered any anonymous options for complaining
- Dalhousie could have pursued an independent investigation for them but didn’t
- This is because an unmentionable number of women may have all said they do not want an independent investigation
- Etc., etc.
Where are we now?
Global News published a story on Dec. 23 announcing Dalhousie confirmed they received a formal complaint.
“Dalhousie University has now received, and is reviewing, an anonymous formal complaint in relation to recently publicized activity of some students within the Faculty of Dentistry,” said Director of Communications Brian Leadbetter, in an emailed statement. “As stated by the President, the university takes this issue extremely seriously and continues to give consideration to all possible consequences.”
According to Global, the email’s author “states the complaint is being made anonymously because the faculty members want to set a new precedent which would allow formal complaints to the university to be processed anonymously.”
It was also reported Dalhousie will decide on whether to go forward with the complaint in early January.
When classes resume on Jan. 5, another rally in support of expelling the men in the group is scheduled for noon in front of Dalhousie’s dentistry building.
Messages being posted by a person or person(s) taking on the mantle of Anonymous have also claimed that if their demands are not met by mid-day on Jan. 5, they will publicize the names of all 13 members of the group and define how involved each man was in the group.
The demands of this particular Anonymous include Dalhousie taking steps to expel “all active members and ringleaders” of the DDS Gentlemen group, and beginning a transparent and thorough investigation into the “institutional practices of Dalhousie University as it pertains to human rights, misogyny, rape culture, and gender justice.”
Florizone has promised to assemble a presidential taskforce by the end of January to investigate a necessary cultural change at Dalhousie. No further details on the taskforce have been communicated at this point.
Answers are necessary for any honest discussion to occur
The events of recent weeks have clearly had a serious impact on Dalhousie. While most students were away for the holiday break, still over 200 people showed up to the rally held in support of expelling the DDS 2015 Gentlemen, and over 600 people are currently announcing their intent to attend the next rally.
It can’t be ignored that some male and female students, alumni and community members are expressing the perspective that this situation has been overblown – that the men in the private DDS Gentlemen group had a reasonable right to an expectation of privacy, that unlimited free speech should triumph over concerns of the women students, that a single group of men should not be punished for an entire culture’s problem.
This particular sentiment has arisen in comments on online news sites, social media comments, blog posts, letters to the editor in the Chronicle Herald, certain online Men’s Rights communities and media stories.
It goes without saying this situation has evoked major concerns within the Dalhousie community.
From the women in the fourth year of the DDS program, to every woman in the faculty of dentistry and at Dalhousie, to the men in the DDS program who were never part of the group – to those affected by the dental clinic’s extended closure and those who may no longer feel safe at the dental clinic – many people have been seriously affected by this situation.
An independent investigation of this situation is absolutely necessary.
If Dalhousie administration is going to put the onus on women in the faculty of dentistry to come forward with complaints before any discipline may occur, every woman in the faculty of dentistry must be adequately informed on the contents of the group and have a chance to state their concerns before they are expected to decide on what discipline they believe is necessary.
An independent investigation must occur to ensure people of all genders and sexual orientations who face harassment on campus can trust their complaints may be dealt with fairly.
This independent investigation must compare the narratives that have been communicated by Dalhousie to what has truly happened within the faculty of dentistry over the preceding months.
If it’s the case that Dalhousie administration communicated to the public multiple times that the women “most affected” by the DDS Gentlemen were having their disciplinary wishes fulfilled through restorative justice while some women targeted by the group were not even notified by Dalhousie about what had happened – this is an injustice.
We do know that Florizone said on Dec. 17 that the women most affected by the posts of the group had been consulted and decided on restorative justice on Dec. 15, yet multiple women targeted by posts in the group have come forward to the media since then saying they were not consulted, and one of Dalhousie’s spokespeople told The Coast she has “no idea” whether all women were consulted.
Even if every woman targeted by the posts becomes adequately informed on the content of the group, and they are all consulted and they agree on restorative justice – even the critics who say this situation is overblown would have no way to argue it’s fair that these women had administration speaking on their behalf as if they had been consulted with, before proper consultation had occurred.
I’m not sure how Dalhousie administration could expect this situation would not be a reputational disaster when it is impossible to build a coherent narrative out of the preceding weeks from the information they have delivered to the public.
Hopefully Florizone will answer the questions posed in this story before hundreds of students will gather on campus on Jan. 5 to show they won’t forget what happened this month. Prominent media coverage of this rally is inevitable, but how informed will reporters be on the true circumstances of what led up to the protest?
The public deserves a detailed statement from Tom Boran explaining his knowledge of what has happened in the preceding weeks. And let’s hope to hear from the Dalhousie Dental Student Society.
I’d especially love to know how the male seniors in the DDS program who weren’t in the Gentlemen group – who just wanted to become dentists without having national media and their own university point them out as potential members of a group of men who participated in hate fuck polls – feel about being thrown under the bus.
There are more facts I’ve come across in my research that I strongly desired to publish in this story, but have chosen not to for now out of concern for the privacy of parties involved. Still, I am sure how stifled I feel is nothing compared to some people within the faculty of dentistry.
A look at any public online forum of discussion shows that hundreds of members of the Dalhousie community are demanding facts on what has actually happened. Only a handful of people are in any position to make these facts known.
Meanwhile, Florizone has said this situation speaks to how there needs to be a wider societal discussion on misogyny and sexualized violence.
For this conversation to begin at Dalhousie, it’s imperative that the people who can speak to what actually happened – and what is actually happening – at Dal’s school of dentistry come forward and share the answers.
Jesse, editor-in-chief of the Gazette, is a fifth-year student of journalism at Dalhousie and the University of King’s College. He started university with three years of experience writing for Teens Now Talk magazine, where he is now copy editor. Before writing a story Jesse likes to think about how his metal detector could finally be useful in researching this one, but there is never a way it could be. Jesse has produced writing and interactive features for Globalnews.ca and The Chronicle Herald. He may be followed on Twitter, @RealJesseWard, or from the Gazette office on Mondays around 8 p.m. to his home in West End Halifax.
Email Jesse at firstname.lastname@example.org.