"Student didn't do enough to prevent brutal sex attack: Carleton"

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Maysie Maysie's picture
"Student didn't do enough to prevent brutal sex attack: Carleton"

Two years ago a female student was working late in the labs at Carleton University in Ottawa and was brutally attacked and raped. She's filed a lawsuit against the university.

Carleton University is blaming her.

The victim of a violent and still-unsolved sex attack in a Carleton University chemistry lab nearly two years ago has filed a half-million-dollar lawsuit against the university.

In a statement of claim, the 25-year-old Ottawa woman says university officials were negligent by failing to take adequate security measures, including equipping laboratory buildings with security devices such as swipe cards and ensuring that door and tunnel entrances to the building were visibly monitored by security cameras.

But in a statement of defence, the university alleges the victim was herself negligent by failing to keep a "proper lookout" for her own safety and failing to register with Department of University Safety as a student working late.

The university alleges the science student chose to remain on the premises alone and chose not to lock the door to the laboratory in which she was working. She knew, or ought to have known, the steps she could take to notify the safety department of her intention to work late on her own, Carleton says.

"She failed to take appropriate or any action for her own safety," says the statement of defence.

The woman is seeking $535,000 in damages for injuries she suffered in the Aug. 31, 2007, attack as well as mental suffering and psychological harm, out-of-pocket expenses and the future loss of income.

According to the victim's statement of claim, her physical injuries included three fractures to her jaw, a fractured cheekbone, broken tooth, bruising to her neck and chest and a black eye. She has also sought counselling to cope with the psychological harm from the sexual assault, but still experiences "intense anxiety", according to her statement of claim.


The brutal sexual assault occurred just days before thousands of undergraduates returned to class and left many wondering about their safety on campus.

Police released a composite sketch of the suspect in the assault, although no one has ever been arrested.


As a result of the attack, the woman had to undergo surgery for her jaw and spent weeks on a liquid diet. Her face was swollen for nearly a year and she now faces the prospect of surgery on her shoulder, which dislocates on a regular basis, the claim says. She was also required to take anti-retroviral drugs to guard against the possibility she had contracted HIV/AIDS during the assault.

Full story in the Ottawa Citizen

martin dufresne

I note from the end of the story that the university tried to settle the lawsuit in mediation, as an attempt to reduce its eventual liability. It seems to be standard procedure for universities to divert from the judicial process prosecution and lawsuits surrounding on-campus sexual assaults.

The Ottawa Citizen also states that "(t)he university has since spent $1.6 million upgrading security measures, more than tripling the number of video cameras on campus as well as enhancing the network of emergency phones, improving outdoor lighting, adding five security officers and 20 more uniformed student-safety patrollers and installing swipe-card readers for access to the chemistry and biology buildings."

This seems to give the lie to their contention that they are not to blame for such equipments not having been installed.


There is mandatory mediation in Ottawa Martin - it's not them attempting to "divert from the judicial process".  Mediation is an important part of the process.  I don't think a party can get out of mediation - even if they wanted to. 

Here is a link to the sexual assault in university thread we had shortly after the Carleton rape: http://www.rabble.ca/babble/feminism/sexual-assaults-ontario-universities

It's a huge understatement to say that civil sexual assault law suits are not pleasant for the plaintiff.  Unlike in criminal law, where we have rape shield laws and other mechanisms in place to protect the complainant - there is nothing in the civil procedure for this.  



this thread title and the statements made by the officials are enraging.

a blame game from the punytive 'powers' that be.

Maysie Maysie's picture

You know what, thanks, you're right. Just to be clearer I'm going to add quotes around the idiot woman-hating statement made by Carleton.


The thread title is from the Canwest headline.  Did Carleton say it somewhere?

Maysie Maysie's picture

Good point, Summer. Changes made.

Now, back to the thread topic.


Given the rampant sexism and racism at university administrations, this kind of attitude is unfortunately not surprising.

Snert Snert's picture

Do you think that the administration is motivated by sexism and racism, rather than a duty to defend itself against the charges (and in particular, against losing half a million dollars)?  Is it realistic to expect them to have not defended themself and to have simply handed over the money?

Maysie Maysie's picture

To answer your questions Snert:



Do not return to this thread. Thank you.


Why, Maysie?

For the record, I find this behaviour on the part of one of my alma mater reprehensible but completely expected.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Because this thread is in the feminist forum, and we talk about issues from a pro-feminist point of view. 

I don't find the actions that Carleton has taken surprising either, but I completely support the woman.


Snert asked two questions. When did that get "criminalized" on Babble? This speaks in some ways to the missing babbler thread. It's my last post on the topic here since it is really a reaction. 

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

It's standard boiler-plate defence pleading in any negligence suit to allege that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. That is to say, the allegation is made without the need for any evidence, simply on the off-chance that some evidence will emerge in the course of the suit that would give a trial judge the opportunity to reduce the defendant's liability to something below 100%. Contributory negligence is an "affirmative defence" and under the rules of court it must be specifically pleaded; failure to do so could result in the trial judge refusing to even consider apportioning liability, and the defence lawyer could be liable for malpractice.

The Ottawa Citizen thinks there's a story there. Until someone at Carleton confirms that they intend to pursue that defence with evidence at trial, I for one will not be taking that particular pleading seriously.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Caissa please see Michelle's post #51 in this thread.

And I answered his questions. 

I'm taking a hard-line here. Feminist space is a defended and contested space on babble. 

Now, can we please return to the topic? 



I re-read Snert's questions and Michelle's post which I had read before. I may be dense but if you could explain to me how those questions violated any policies I'd be greatly appreciative. If those sorts of questions aren't pemissible in this thread, what sort of discussion other than condemning Carleton's position is permissible?


ETA: What M. Spector said.


Caissa, could you please just stay out of this thread now, since you don't appear to want to discuss the topic.  The feminism forum isn't here to accommodate your hobby of challenging the mods on everything they say and do.  Take it to rabble reactions.  Don't post in this thread again.  Thanks.



I agree with M. Spector.  Anyone who's ever seen a Statement of Defence knows that this is fairly standard boilerblate. 

Back when this happened in 2007, I think everyone was pretty much agreed that this was one person's fault: the rapist. 

The plaintiff now alleges that this was the university's fault.  The university says, no it wasn't our fault.  Or, in the alternative, if it was our fault, it was partly your fault too. 

So what the case is about is whether it's Carleton's fault she was raped, and if so, how much money will she get.

Canwest is blowing it out of proportion and putting words in Carleton's mouth.  

This is not a case like Jane Doe v. Toronto Metropolitan Police where the police knew there was a rapist targeting women in the neighbourhood and they failed to warn.  There was no failure to warn here.


Much of the university's statement of defence is standard legal language, said Bruce Feldthusen, dean of law at the University of Ottawa.

"Pleadings are pleadings, and everybody is obligated to overstate their case at the pleadings stage," he said Friday.

"The lawyers would be negligent if they failed to raise something," he said. "There's still room for the defendant to end up settling on generous terms, depending on how things play out.

"There's a case, I think, where the legal culture is just a little different from what people think. In the law business, everybody knows that pleadings are not facts."


A couple other points:  Snert >  This won't cost Carleton a cent.  They have liability insurance.  Debbie Orth, the lawyer who drafted the Statement of Defence has been retained by an insurance company. 

I hope that the plaintiff has a damn good lawyer who has explained to her how awful the litigation experience will be for her and who hasn't raised false expectations in her about what's likely to happen at trial.  


I have discussed the topic Michelle. I have condemned the stance my alma mater has taken and I have agreed with what M. Spector said in #13. Since I want to continue discussing this issue, I truly want to understand what Snert did wrong and what the legitimate perimeters of debate are on this question so that I don't over-step them.


I can see the point that the university couldn't just say, "Okay, here's your money."  But I also wonder whether there is a way that they could have responded, such as perhaps working with the victim and perhaps women's groups on campus to implement the security changes suggested in her statement of claim. 

I understand that the court system is very adversarial, and that the nature of the system itself makes it difficult for one side or the other to back down in any way.  So I can see that the university can't just hand over the money without any attempt to do the procedural defence stuff they have to do.

But I guess I just think that, institutionally, things have to change so that when something like this happens, it doesn't take lawsuits, and repetitions of victim-blaming tropes, to not only get the student the help and compensation she needs for what happened, but also to perhaps work with her and other concerned students to make the changes necessary to make campus safer.

I don't know for sure, but I'm betting, from the accusatory tone of the defense, that this wasn't tried.  If something like this happened to me, and the university administration paid my medical bills, reimbursed me for my real money losses, but also took very seriously my recommendations for what needs to change in order to make campus safer, I probably wouldn't have sued them.  And I'm betting most women who have been sexually assaulted wouldn't either.


As Summer said (post #17) this is actually not even the University replying. Anyone with insurance agrees as part of their policy that if they are sued for negligence the insurance company that has to pay gets to defend against the action. 

Insurance companies in situations where they are forced to go to mediation go there and say no way we will not settle.  In most cases they want to test whether the plaintiff has deep enough pockets to go forward in a meaningful way. This is the tragedy of our legal system and highlights why it is a system for the rich and no one else.


That's interesting to know, and that sheds some light on what is happening.

Let's go back a bit, though.  Do you think she'd have sued them at all if they'd addressed her concerns and worked with her to create the security she (and probably other women's groups on campus, I'm betting) recommends?


Michelle wrote:

That's interesting to know, and that sheds some light on what is happening.

Let's go back a bit, though.  Do you think she'd have sued them at all if they'd addressed her concerns and worked with her to create the security she (and probably other women's groups on campus, I'm betting) recommends?


I don't know the woman involved so I cannot even begin to guess as to what she would do.  As a feminist I am sure you would see the greater good being to protect other women but that is not what motivates all women. As is often the case though someone like this woman will go to a lawyer and they will recommend suing just to open up the dialogue in a way that gives the plaintiff some power.

remind remind's picture

I read somewhere else that since this incident, Carleton has put up around 70 more camera's, hired 5 or so more security cards and installed card swipe entry points for labs, automatically locking doors.

So...in essence, they have addressed her concerns, and indeed their actions are contary to their claims against her. If it was safe and she could have done more to save herself, a they are claiming, why would do they do all these extra things, that she feels would have kept her safe?

martin dufresne

That's what I argued in post #1 above.


remind remind's picture

I knew I read it somewhere, :D



Bottom line 1: The rape is the fault of the rapist. 

 Most sexual assaults happen at home - not at school or the mall or the movie theatre or the bar.  In those cases, we know that there is only one person to blame.  

But this case could be important for those rare assaults that do happen in public.  When can an institution be negligent?  What level of security is appropriate for an after-hours computer lab on campus?  If there were cameras or swipecards at the time of the attack, it might not have prevented it - only recorded it.

If we knew who her attacker was and he had deep pockets, she could sue him and collect against him.  She can't.  If she can prove that Carleton breached its standard of care at the time of the rape, she can collect from the university.  The next step would be to assess the damages (i.e. money). 

Bottom line 2: lawsuits are about money and they are not fun. 

To answer Michelle's question: I think she would have sued the school regardless.  If you were hurt in a car crash and found out that the car manufacturer was somehow responsible (let's say, faulty seatbelts), would you decide not to sue if they promised to fix seatbelts in the future.  If you were the car manufacturer and you thought your seatbelts were just fine but some asshole at the dealership tampered with them, you would tell the victim to leave you alone and sue the guy at the dealership.  

Kropotkin > you seem to have insight into how lawsuits work.  I'm inhouse now and haven't had exposure to insurance litigation for a few years but your take is different from my experiences.  When people came to my firm with a potential lawsuit, we would recommend taking it if there was a valid cause of action with a decent shot at success after advising the client of all the risks and costs associated with it.  I would never recommend starting a lawsuit to "open up the dialogue in a way that gives the plaintiff some power".  I might recommend writing a letter to accomplish that but once the Statement of Claim is filed the clock is ticking and there's only 20 days to prepare a Statement of Defence.  Also, chances are that the lawyer who took this on is on contingency which means the plaintiff only pays if she gets some money from the school.  

Carleton already upped its security.   She will rely on that fact to prove that its security was insufficient at the time she was attacked.  Carleton will rely on that fact to show what a responsible institution it is and very responsive to changing security needs.  The standard of care is assessed at the time of the incident.  The question is what type of security would have been reasonable to have in place or what security would a reasonable university have had.   Standards change over time.  Cars today have airbags.  Older cars don't.  

This thread reminds me of the MT first degree murder thread.  I'm looking at it from the POV of what the legal system does and what it can and can't do.  Others may be looking at it from the perspective of what it should and should not do.  



This is something I found from the BC Law Institute - they have a working paper on civil sexual assault:  http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/PubDocs/bcdocs/339429/SexAssaultWP.doc


Here are the 8 principles they identified (the paper is in draft form and I renumbered them but didn't change them!)



  • 1. Sexual assault is a serious matter, resulting in inherent harm to survivors. This harm has not yet been fully recognized by the civil justice system.


  • 2. The civil justice system, while imperfect, is an important process for recognizing the serious nature of sexual assault, awarding compensation to survivors, changing the behaviour of and deterring defendants, and establishing benchmarks for use in other proceedings.


  • 3. It is a reasonable expectation for survivors of sexual assault to look to the civil courts as a means of redress.


  • 4. The general purpose of the civil damages system is to restore the plaintiff to the state she was in prior to the wrongful conduct. The challenge in sexual assault cases is to recognize and quantify the plaintiff's harm and consequent injuries into a damage award which reflects that restorative principle.


  • 5. There must be attention to diversity in the circumstances of survivors, and to differing forms of harm which flow from sexual assault.


  • 6. While sexual assault cases raise some issues which are unique, damage awards for sexual assault should be, as far as possible, in line with awards made in other tort cases.


  • 7. The nature of a defendant's liability may have an influence on the application of principles relating to damages.


  • 8. The potential impact of sexual assault damage awards on non-profit organizations, government, and society more generally is an issue meriting attention.

rural - Francesca rural - Francesca's picture

If the University had a "there wasn't anyhing more we could have done" rather than victim blaming, then I could stomach the "just standard legal defensive" claim.


In light of the measure they have since implmented, she's not asking for a lot, cut the cheque!


Summer I did not mean if there was no case but if they thought they had an arguable case to begin with. A good lawyer might make a phone call or two prior to filing but if it potentially is a large suit then the university would likely defer any lawyers call to their insurers and then the dance would begin. Unless the Ontario bar has changed its rules in the last couple of years lawyers are not allowed to take cases on contingency although they are allowed to defer their fees.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

It has changed its rules and they are allowed to take cases on contingency.

The case is being defended by lawyers who answer to the insurance company who is paying their fees. The insurance company has carriage of the defence and is not obliged to run the statement of defence by the University before filing it in court.

martin dufresne

From the PAR-L list (great national resource, highly recommended)

Subject: Carleton University and violence against women

Please circulate this info to everyone who are interested in supporting women's rights at Carleton University - We need people to write emails, and especially to join our rally next Monday.

Carleton U. is being sued by the woman who was brutally sexually assaulted in 2007. In response, the university states that the victim's injuries were "caused or contributed to by the Plaintiff through her own negligence... she was not keeping a proper lookout for her own safety"

We urge all community members who believe in women's rights to email your thoughts to:
President Roseann O'Reilly Runte [email protected]
Vice President Duncan Watt [email protected]
Equity Services [email protected]
The Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Support Centre is launching a campaign in response: "Accountability, safety, respect, dignity: We're Asking For It!"

We are organizing an emergency rally for next Monday, Aug. 17th:

A demonstration, organized by Carleton Students and members of the Ottawa community, is being held to bring attention to Carleton's stance on sexual
assault. Student demonstrators will meet at at 2:30pm in the atrium of the University Centre and will head to the CU's administration offices at 3:00 pm to present petitions and opposition letters. We will then march to the Bronson/Sunnyside entrance where we will be joined by members of the larger community for a rally from 4:30-6:00pm.

- for more information check the blogspot and twitter page: http://asking4it.blogspot.com/
- there is also a Facebook group: Carleton University's Views on Sexual Assault Do Not Represent Me

For more information and to get involved, contact [email protected] 




It's usually nice to see Canadian content show up on Feministing, but this time it's just embarrassing, especially personally, as I recently graduated from Carleton.

Here's Jessica Valenti's take on the case:


remind remind's picture

Anyone hear how the rally went?


No idea how the rally went but the case has been settled:


The deal was announced Friday in a press release issued by the young woman's lawyer, Andrew B. Lister.


The release says that the settlement was reached after mediation.


The statement also says that the agreement recognizes the pain and suffering caused by the 2007 sexual assault and "will allow the Plaintiff to begin the process of moving on with her life."


The plaintiff had sued for $535,000 in damages for injuries, mental suffering and psychological harm, out-of-pocket expenses and future loss of income.


The specific terms of the agreement were not made public.


However, the statement also noted that the university's statement of defence, which was filed in response to the original suit, does not reflect "an institutional belief that the Plaintiff is to blame for the assault that took place."


remind remind's picture

Thanks summer.