BURNABY (NEWS 1130) — Three months after a Black alumnus was violently arrested at SFU an independent review of the incident has concluded, but campus groups are unsatisfied with it and troubled by its conclusions.
On December 11, 2020 campus security called the Burnaby RCMP to the dining hall and a former student was pepper-sprayed and tasered by an officer before being taken into custody.
At the time, the Simon Fraser Student Society and the SFU Black Caucus condemned both campus security’s decision to call police, and the use of force by the responding officer.
The president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, Osob Mohamed, described the incident as particularly concerning given that she and other students have been pushing the university to recognize the potential dangers of calling the police on racialized people. Hundreds signed a petition demanding an inquiry saying the actions of both the university and police were examples of how BIPOC students are subject to racial profiling and discrimination.
The police then proceeded to escalate the situation using pepper spray until he was in pain and disoriented, and left to try and defend himself from being tasered. He was later brought to the hospital where he was treated to remove the electrode from his skull. pic.twitter.com/IdJa7RKxe4
— Giovanni HoSang (@giovannihosang) December 13, 2020
The RCMP, in a statement, said the alumnus was refusing to wear a mask and refusing to leave campus. Police also claimed the man “placed an officer in a chokehold,” which caused the officer to “fear for his safety.”
University President Joy Johnson ordered a third-party review of the “unsettling event,” retaining lawyer Andi MacKay to carry it out.
A summary of the review was released last week, and found “no evidence” that “racial profiling, SFU’s standard operating procedures, or inconsistent application of those procedures contributed to the events.”
The summary includes some details that were not previously disclosed, including that another student’s interaction with the alumnus “caused the reasonable fear for their safety,” promoting the request of a “safe walk.” It also says the safe walk request meant “CPS could not permit the Alumnus to remain on campus after being alerted to the safe walk request.” The summary also says the alumnus was aware of the policy to restrict campus access to current students and an incident two days prior had been “successfully deescalated” by allowing the alumnus to remain on campus.
The review recommends updating ID cards so they contain “digital information,” update the definition of a “community member” and improve the way it communicates “who is allowed to access campus and who is not.”
Student society ‘deeply concerned’ by findings
In response, the Simon Fraser Student Society issued a statement saying the summary lacked “concrete findings and recommendations” taking issue with “multiple elements of this report,” and calling for the full report to be released.
First, the society says the request for a safe walk was never communicated to the alumnus any policy that states that such a request is grounds for removal from campus is not readily available.
“The sole basis that was communicated to the alumnus for their removal was on the basis of SFU’s COVID-19 campus access policies which were vague, conflicting, and not widely accessible. These policies were also not accompanied by any reliable mechanism to validate if a person is a current student or not,” the statement reads.
“We could not find anywhere to our knowledge of existing CPS policies that state SFU Safewalk requests result in an automatic and immediate removal of a person from campus as outlined in the report- which would be a problematic practice.”
The SFSS is deeply concerned by the lack of concrete findings and recommendations in the MacKay Report summary. We take issue with multiple elements of the report.
— SFSS (@SFSS1) March 12, 2021
Next, the society says updating ID cards does not address the issue of who on campus may be targeted for an ID check.
Finally, the society says the arrest needs to be considered in the context of systemic and institutionalized racism.
“Incidents like that of December 11th are not isolated incidents. Our Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour community members will continue to be the subjects of racial profiling and violent incidents on our campuses if SFU fails to equitably redress their inadequate policies, procedures, and practices,” the statement says.
“The University must commit to taking tangible action led by racialized voices in tackling these systemic problems. SFU’s vague, inequitable, and inaccessible policies, always gives space for institutions to disproportionately target marginalized communities.”
Findings of review ‘wholeheartedly rejected’ by SFU Black Caucus
SFU’s Black Caucus is also demanding the full report be released, and is calling for a public inquiry.
“We wholeheartedly reject the findings of this report and count it as further evidence of systemic racism at SFU,” a statement reads.
One of the main issues raised is that the report does not address the actions of police.
“Nothing in the report explains the violence that was unleashed on the alumnus,” a statement reads.
“Nothing in the report indicates why the police were justified in this use of force, even if they felt the need to question him. It is concerning that the report does not state if any witnesses of the altercation were interviewed, thereby suggesting a notable lack of representation from those who may have supported the alumnus. This absence of information and inquiry into the actual escalation, altercation and arrest is also concerning and questionable.”
The caucus also says the fact that a request for a safe walk is being cited as the reason the alumnus needed to be removed fails to consider context.
“This is an inadequate justification as the media has been replete with instances where Black people are seen as a threat for simply existing in white spaces. Hence, someone’s fear or discomfort alone could not possibly be used as the justification in light of what we all know about systemic racism,” the statement reads.
An SFU requested summarized report with no details was released on the violent arrest of the alumni. Report states that…
SFU President says review of protocols, procedures coming
Johnson has released a statement saying talks about how to implement the recommendations in the review are ongoing, and also commits to a review of campus policies.
“The external review concluded that the Campus Public Safety response adhered to current operating protocols and procedures,” Johnson writes.
“Although the response followed current protocol and procedures it is important that those standards are also reviewed to ensure they meet our current needs and approach to safety on campus. We must go beyond the application of current protocols and review our current policy and approach to safety on campus. The university will be undertaking a broad consultation to hear from our community about what safety on our campuses could and should look like. For our students, faculty, staff and alumni, this incident has been about far more than the events of one evening. It has reinforced concerns about racism on our campuses.”
With files from Bethlehem Mariam and Kier Junos