Student leaders resign after sexually violent comments about president

Four elected University of Ottawa student representatives resigned after participating in a sexually violent Facebook conversation about the president of the student federation, which was later leaked online.

Alex Larochelle, Pat Marquis, Alexandre Giroux, and Michel Fournier-Simard resigned from their elected positions after screenshots of the conversation were posted on bellejar.ca, a blog run by Toronto-based writer Anne Thériault.

In the conversation, which took place mostly in French, they discussed Anne-Marie Roy, the president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).

The men discussed partaking in sexual acts against Roy, including a suggestion to “punish her with their shaft,” and a promise of a beer for doing so. Roy said she received a copy of the conversation Feb. 10 through an anonymous email and was infuriated and concerned for her safety and the safety of other students.

“When I saw the conversation, I felt it was very important for me to speak out against this,” Roy said. “This is a perfect example of what rape culture looks like. It’s downplaying rape and sexual violence and making a joke out of it when it’s actually a very real and serious issue.”

Roy said the SFUO would take steps to respond to the incident in a constructive way.

“We’re going to be launching a task force in the next few weeks to basically look into engaging students on the issue of rape culture,” Roy said. “I also plan on using the ‘No Means No’ campaign in all of our drinking events.”

Roy said Larochelle pursued her legally for speaking publicly against the comments. A letter sent to her by Larochelle’s lawyer Michael D. Swindley stated, “Nothing in my client’s statements are misogynistic, ‘slut-shaming’, or refer to ‘rape,’” according to CBC.

All five have since agreed not to pursue legal action. Roy said she plans to start anti-oppression training for all student leaders, including federated body executives and student federation executives.

She said she is working with university president Allan Rock to fight rape culture on campus through a possible investigation into the root causes of the culture on campus, and how to fight it.

“The comments demonstrate attitudes about women and sexual aggression that have no place on campus, or anywhere else in Canadian society,” Rock said in a press release. “The University will work with our student President to ensure the situation is addressed properly.”

A Facebook petition was started by the Indigenous and Canadian Studies Students’ Association calling for the resignation of the student leaders involved. The petition has approximately 1,500 “likes.”

The creator of the page, William Leonard-Felepchuk, said the association wanted to organize a response to the “unacceptable” comments made, especially because this was not the first time Marquis made offensive comments.

“Last year he had made disparaging comments about the Algonquin first nations,” Leonard-Felepchuk said. “We had come up with an agreement with him in March of 2013 where we made a joint press release promising his responsibility and accountability towards indigenous students.”

Leonard-Felepchuk said the association felt they can no longer trust that Marquis can hold up his end of the agreement, which is why they called for his resignation. He said the association is “relieved” by the news of the resignations.