By Tina Shaygan, January 10 2018 —
Members of the University of Calgary community have expressed outrage and frustration over the convicted sexual offender Connor Neurauter’s continued enrolment at the school, including in a petition to have Neurauter expelled that has now exceeded 20,000 signatures.
Neurauter was convicted of sexual interference on Jan 4 — two years after the charges were first brought forward. The 13-year-old victim had said in a statement that Neurauter choked her with his hands and asked for nude photographs which he later used to threaten her in order to keep the relationship a secret. The judge in the case allowed Neurauter’s 90-days sentence to be delayed to May in order to allow him to finish his semester at the U of C.
In a statement on Jan. 9, the U of C said they are “reviewing” the situation and that Neurauter will not be on campus for the rest of the week.
Kaitlyn Casswell, who started the petition, said she was disappointed with the U of C’s response, adding that she started the petition in order to show the victim that she is not alone.
“I feel like I’ve read the same narrative over and over again: a young man gets convicted, the courts, schools and sports teams bend over backwards to try and save them from the repercussions of their own actions,” Casswell said. “I just felt like I needed to do something to try and change some of that narrative.”
Casswell added that she thinks the right action for the U of C is to expel Neurauter.
“[U of C administration] have an opportunity here to set a new tone and to show Calgary and Canada that the courts might have failed this victim but they have a chance to do something right and show her that if you commit a crime you don’t just get to walk away,” she said.
The sentiment is echoed by Jennifer Heidebrecht, a U of C graduate student who was a teaching assistant for a course Neurauter was enrolled in last semester. Heidebrecht expressed concerns over not having been notified of the conviction earlier.
“I was surprised to hear of this case through the Gauntlet and was immediately concerned at the lack of information provided to me as the TA for a class that Neurauter was taking,” Heidebrecht said. “I certainly would not have allowed myself to be alone in a room with him after class, and while nothing happened to me, I cannot help questioning how my safety and the safety of other students seemingly took second place to allow a convicted sex offender the right to finish his schooling.”
Werklund School of Education researcher and professor Michael Kehler said it is the university’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all students on campus. He added that he is not surprised by the public outrage over the situation.
“I’m not at all surprised by the response from the general public,” Kehler said. “What is surprising is how there wasn’t a clear line of communication in terms of [Neurauter] coming back to the university.”
“To suggest that we can carry on business as usual in this case is misguided and misinformed,” he added.
Some U of C students have also expressed concerns over the school’s handling of the situation.
Anthropology and development studies student Jennah MartensForrester was frustrated with the U of C’s statement.
“I’m surprised it took them as long as it did to release such a short statement with so little information contained in it,” MartensForrester said. “I would have at least included in a statement whether or not they’re considering him continue as a student.”
MartensForrester added that she is worried about the precedent that the U of C’s decision regarding Neurauter’s case would set.
“If [the U of C] can’t readily expel a student who has been convicted of a child sex crime how can any students who has been a victim of sexual violence expect to come to the university and have their experience be believed and validated and expect any kind of justice or protection from the university?” MartensForrester said.
Canadian studies and education student Alexandria Hay said this is an opportunity for the U of C to exercise their sexual violence policy, which was implemented in June 2017.
“It’d be very hypocritical for the U of C to not do anything or impose any sanctions whatsoever,” Hay said. “The way for the U of C to make a statement and say they stand with survivors of sexual assault is by expelling him and saying ‘you’re not welcome here.’ ”
The on-campus Consent Awareness and Sexual Education (CASE) club released a statement regarding the U of C’s response.
“We recognize that the University of Calgary was not aware of Neurauter’s delayed sentence and that they were not at fault in this injustice. Nonetheless, we were disappointed by their statement today as we had hoped they would reveal a tangible plan of action,” the statement read. “While we are pleased that both the University of Calgary and the Student’s Union prioritized survivors in their statements, we hope that these are not their final responses and that they will uphold their commitments to addressing the threat of sexual violence on our campus.”
The U of C could not be reached for further comment at this time.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.