It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the University of Calgary community.
Closing arguments in the trial for Matthew de Grood were heard May 24. De Grood was accused of five counts of first-degree murder in the April 2014 killings of Jordan Segura, Lawrence Hong, Kaitlin Perras, Zackariah Rathwell and Joshua Hunter at a house-party in Brentwood. Both the Crown and Defence deemed de Grood “not criminally responsible” for the killings due to mental illness.
The case has direct post-secondary connections. De Grood is a recent U of C grad. Perras attended Mount Royal University. Rathwell was a student at ACAD. And Hong, Hunter and Segura were all U of C students.
Over the course of the hearing, witnesses gave graphically detailed testimony. Parents shared emotional tributes about their children. De Grood’s mental state was picked apart and analyzed by medical experts. And all of this happened alongside live-tweeting firestorms, media statements from loved ones and impassioned Calgary Herald op-eds.
Yet as the public trial went on, the U of C remained utterly silent.
This event impacted a lot of people in the university community. The victims were their friends, their family members, their classmates and their students. The trial opened old wounds and reminded our community of its loss.
This was a difficult and emotional week. The fact that the university ignored it is irresponsible.
It’s important that yearly scholarships to commemorate the victims are given out each year. But beyond that, the university is subtley distancing itself from the tragedy.
Look at the UCalgary Strong Festival — originally touted as a move to support the community following the murders. Recently, it has evolved into a pitch about how free donuts for the first 100 attendees somehow builds mental health resiliency.
The U of C is now distancing itself from the trial because it’s bad press. They don’t want the murders directly associated with Bermuda Shorts Day or the university.
We deserve an acknowledgement of the impact this trial has on our campus. The victims of this event deserve remembrance and those affected deserve support.
We shouldn’t dwell on tragedy, but we also can’t ignore its lasting effects on our university and community. Last week’s trial brought those effects to the surface.
The largest mass killing in Calgary’s history occurred just minutes from our campus on our last day of classes. Three of our students were killed. It’s intimately intertwined with the U of C. Free donuts won’t make that go away.
If the university was considerate, they would’ve issued a statement of support during the trial — a reminder that our campus stood together two years ago and stands together now. They should’ve pointed people towards mental health services during a difficult and triggering trial.
When you’re going through a confusing and emotional time, it’s comforting to know someone supports you, especially a large institution. The U of C is capable of this.
A few days after the murders, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon issued a formal statement of support under the headline, “we do not stand alone.”
“Let us continue to honour the memory of the victims by living out the values of our university community: strength, resilience and compassion,” Cannon said. At the time, it was a touching statement of community.
With the public conversation around this trial, the families and friends of the victims — and the U of C as a whole — needed that strength, resilience and compassion more than ever.
Two years later, we still don’t stand alone. The U of C should remind us of that.
Melanie Woods, Gauntlet Editorial Board