McGill student sues school, student paper and others over sexual assault allegation
A McGill student who was accused of sexual assault is now suing the university, a student paper, two student organizations and his accuser, saying his life has been unfairly ruined.
Declan McCool, 24, is seeking $1.5 million in damages.
McCool had just been elected the vice-president of McGill’s student society last February when he was told that another student had accused him of sexual assault.
He wasn’t told who the accuser was, he said, or given details of the accusation, but he was required to defend himself before a committee of four engineering students.
That committee “convicted” McCool within its own system and imposed a sanction on him: he was no longer allowed to participate in McGill events involving alcohol.
The whole process was supposed to be confidential. But according to McCool’s lawsuit, just hours after he was advised of the decision, the student paper the McGill Daily published an article that “characterized McCool as a sexual predator.”
“The press, then, without even speaking with Declan, without even learning that he never had an opportunity to properly defend himself, because he didn't even know what the allegations were and who had made the allegations, ran this article,” said Chris Spiteri, McCool’s lawyer.
“So by implication, they have convicted him in the public forum,” he said.
None of the allegations has been tested or proved in court.
The student who alleged that McCool assaulted her also wrote an anonymous piece for the McGill Daily, saying she didn’t want to go through an official reporting process.
“I chose this route because reporting through the police or McGill would have been a long and arduous process that I did not have the time, resources, or energy for,” she wrote.
“I would have had to face institutions that have long histories of mistreating cases like mine.”
McCool appealed the ruling he’d received at the school committee. This time, the student society hired an independent investigator, and McCool was given the name of the complainant and more details of the allegations.
The decision was overturned. According to the lawsuit, the investigator found that the incident was consensual.
Spiteri says his client’s reputation is “destroyed” nonetheless.
“What employer is going to hire this young man when you google him and this comes up?” Spiteri said.
In a statement, McGill refused to comment, saying the case is now before the courts. It could take years before there’s a decision.