[Warning: Graphic Content] Leaked Facebook conversation sparks controversy at uOttawa

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WARNING: Story contains graphic language

Disclaimer: In the spirit of transparency, I would like to disclose the fact that I am a student at the University of Ottawa and have had previous contact with some of the people involved in this situation. 

The University of Ottawa has been rocked by a scandal of a particularly sensitive nature. It involves a private Facebook message between five University of Ottawa male students who either currently hold or have held positions of leadership within their respective student associations. On February 10, during the most recent Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) election campaign, Anne-Marie Roy, who was re-elected as SFUO president, received an anonymous e-mail which contained screenshots of a private conversation between these five students, Bart Tremblay, Alexandre Giroux, Alex Larochelle, Pat Marquis and Michel Fournier-Simard.

Timeline of events

During the February 23 SFUO board of administration meeting, an emergency motion was presented to condemn the five students. When Fournier-Simard, Giroux, Larochelle and Tremblay found out that Anne-Marie Roy was planning on circulating screenshots of the conversation to all board members in support of the motion, they served her with a cease and desist order which “threatened legal action against Roy if she did not ʻdestroyʼ her copy of the online conversation and stop sharing it with others.”

On February 28, The Belle Jar blog was the first to publish the screenshots of the conversation in question. On the same day, a Facebook group called UOttawa Students demand Resignation of Pat Marquis and Associates was created and has since garnered nearly 1,400 likes at the time of publication.

On Saturday, University of Ottawa President Allan Rock commented on the situation: “The comments demonstrate attitudes about women and sexual aggression that have no place on campus, or anywhere else in Canadian society. The University will work with our student President to ensure the situation is addressed properly.”

The Fulcrum was the first to break the news on a first wave of resignations: Pat Marquis and Alex Larochelle had stepped down. Marquis claims that his decision was “based on his receipt of hate mail and threats”. A screenshot of a message that was allegedly sent by Guillaume Lavigne to Marquis has been circulating on Facebook:

Guillaume Lavigne threats to Pat Marquis

Yesterday, the Ottawa Sun reported that Michel Fournier-Simard and Alexandre Giroux had also resigned from their respective positions as elected student representatives. The article also states that Ms. Roy received a letter of apology from all four former student representatives.

Read a statement by Anne-Marie Roy

This unfortunate incident has now garnered national attention and will undoubtedly reignite discussions surrounding rape culture on Canadian campuses. However, it is unclear how this private Facebook conversation was obtained in the first place. While the content of the conversation is extremely troubling to say the least, could this be considered, for example, an invasion of privacy, in particular under section 184 of the Criminal Code? On the other hand, could Ms. Roy pursue legal action against these five men for cyberbullying? Do such incidents deter young women from getting involved in student politics and/or politics in general?

Other media coverage (updated on October 10, 2014)

« Ce ne sont pas les meilleures blagues » – Le Droit – Julien Paquette

Student prez target of vicious online attack – Canoe.ca – Jessie Archambault, QMI Agency

ʻRape cultureʼ signifies deeply rooted attitudes: professor – Ottawa Citizen – Robin Levinson

Students accused of making comments about sexual assault of SFUO president – The Fulcrum – Spencer Van Dyk – February 27, 2014

Students quit U of O board after making sex comments about student federation president – Ottawa Citizen – Robin Levinson and Michael Woods

UOttawa student president “torn up” over sexual Facebook comments – 580 CFRA News Talk Radio – Mai Habib and Josh Pringle

Universités canadiennes: une étudiante dénonce la «culture du viol» – Le Devoir – La Presse canadienne

Anne-Marie Roy, uOttawa student leader, subject of explicit online chat – CBC News – The Canadian Press

Des élus étudiants d’Ottawa démissionnent à cause de leurs propos misogynes – Journal de Montréal – Agence QMI

Polémique sexuelle à la Fédération étudiante de l’Ud’O – 104,7 fm Outaouais

Pat Marquis resigns from SFUO – The Fulcrum – March 1, 2014

Student leader denounces campuses ‘rape culture’ – The Globe and Mail – Diana Mehta – March 2, 2014

Sexually graphic group chat between student officials posted online – The Fulcrum – February 28, 2014

Legal threats dropped against Ottawa student leader after ‘rape culture’ remarks – The Globe and Mail – The Canadian Press – March 3, 2014

Former Governor-General Michaelle Jean calls out ‘rape culture’ infecting country’s campuses and society – National Post – Terry Pedwell – March 6, 2014

WILLIAMS – Weasel words whitewash rape – Chronicle Herald – Emily Williams – March 11, 2014

U of O plans task force on sexism, violence against women – Maclean’s – The Canadian Press – March 6, 2014

Clavardage sexiste et dégradant : des étudiants de l’Université d’Ottawa au coeur d’une controverse – Radio Canada – 3 mars 2014

Ottawa student leader denounces ‘rape culture’ after threats – Maclean’s – The Canadian Press – March 3, 2014

College and university women sign open letter in support of Anne-Marie Roy: ‘rape culture is pervasive’ – Rabble.ca – March 8, 2014

Anne-Marie Roy : « La culture du viol n’a pas sa place ni en privé ni en public » – La Rotonde – David Beaudin Hyppia – 9 mars 2014

Universités canadiennes: une étudiante dénone la culture du viol – La Presse – La Presse Canadienne – 3 mars 2014

Alleged online attacked is police chief’s son – London Free Press – Doug Hempstead – March 4, 2014

Gender Block: When private locker room talk goes public – This Magazine – Hillary Di Menna – March 3, 2014

Quelle culture du viol? – Journal Métro – Judith Lussier – 7 mars 2014

Contre la culture du viol dans nos universités (Lettre ouverte de la part de certains membres du corps professoral de l’Université d’Ottawa) – Le Droit – 4 mars 2014

Propos misogynes: des élus étudiants démissionnent – fr.canoe.ca – Agence QMI – 3 mars 2014

Is there a ‘rape culture’ on Canadian university campuses? – Yahoo! News Canada – Matthew Coutts (Daily Brew) – March 3, 2014