Photo of the 501 streetcar in Chinatown. CC Flickr by Don Gunn.

Content warning: Discussion of sexual assault

The annual Halloween Streetcar Pub Crawl hosted by the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA) is facing scrutiny after reports of sexual assault and rape in previous years have come to light. In response to the allegations, some students are calling to boycott pub-crawl and have set up their own alternative event on Facebook.

“Over the past two years, there have been multiple incidents of severe sexual violence at previous WCSA Halloween Streetcar Pubcrawls,” reads a portion of the boycott event’s description. “WCSA has failed to inform the student body of these attacks at their event, nor have they made sufficient efforts to improve the safety of this event. Despite making promises to substantively address sexual violence within their community, there has been no evidence that they have followed through with this.”

Allegations of sexual assault

Veronica*, a student who attended WCSA’s Streetcar Pub Crawl last year, alleged that the WCSA president at the time sexually assaulted her.

“I went on the WCSA streetcar event with the WCSA president, who was a close friend of mine and I got very drunk,” she recalled. “It was easy to do because there was no way to track the number of drinks you’d had. I was just given a bunch of drink tickets at once.”

Veronica said that the WCSA president offered to take her home afterwards. “I was house-sitting at the time so I was alone. I remember going to bed and then I remember waking up under the covers with him under the covers with me. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

“This isn’t really to do with WCSA — it just shows what kind of leadership there was at the time,” she commented.

When asked what could be done to make the event safer, Veronica said that there should be more active bystanders. “They should have people who are sober and watching out for students who don’t look comfortable or who don’t seem to be able to take care of themselves.”

The boycott

Lisa Meyer, a fourth-year Woodsworth College student, and Celia Wandio, founder of Students Against Sexual Violence U of T, are calling for students to boycott the pub crawl, or for WCSA to cancel the event altogether. They said that they would like WCSA to refrain from hosting events involving alcohol until they make a commitment to the safety of the students and to have students at each location monitor potential unsafe situations.

“The fact that WCSA has never told their constituents about the assaults is completely unacceptable and downright shameful,” Meyer said. “It is WCSA’s responsibility to ensure that students who attend their events are safe and this is something they have failed to do year after year.”

WCSA rents out a streetcar to take students to several different bars, but according to Meyer, who worked with WCSA on the event in 2012, it’s not a safe or guaranteed mode of transportation. 

WCSA is very clear year after year that ‘the streetcar waits for no one’,” said Meyer, adding, “I remember being at the event and scrambling to find people you know that the streetcar was about to leave the bar. If the people couldn’t be found, the group would leave without them. Additionally, there was no ride back from the third and last bar, meaning that all attendees would have to find their way home while being piss drunk. Back in 2012, we ended in Little Portugal.”

“I decided to help with this boycott because what has happened at previous WCSA pub crawls has been horrible,” said Wandio.

“There are suggestions that they are taking more safety precautions as a result but there has been no clear attempt to communicate this to students. While off-campus alcoholic events are difficult to regulate, WCSA needs to do more in order to ensure the safety of all its students and to show that they take sexual violence seriously,” Wandio added.

Jasmine Denike, vice-president external of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), said, “the UTSU will not be endorsing the boycott of the Streetcar Pub Crawl but we do encourage the WCSA executives to re-evaluate the event and find ways to improve the safety of students who are attending.”

“As these incidents have happened in the past, it’s a possibility that they may happen in the future. The best way to avoid them is to acknowledge them and to take the necessary steps in preventing them from ever happening again,” Denike said, adding, “it’s not the fault of the current exec — they haven’t done anything wrong. I’d just like to see the event made safer and better. It’s not an attack on WCSA. Everything needs to change to be safer.”

WCSA’s response

WCSA released a statement on Sunday, October 25 regarding the pub night. The statement outlines the changes that have been implemented in order to make the event safer.

“Our Vice-President of Social Affairs has personally met with our Dean of Students as well as our Student Life Coordinator to brainstorm ways to mitigate risks, as well as meeting with the executive team of WCSA to discuss how to minimize risks for our students. We have created a detailed risk management plan for the evening and implemented changes to make the event more inclusive and safer for all our students,” a portion of the statement reads.

“WCSA does not tolerate assaults of any kind nor do we act in a way that puts our students at risk,” said Olivia Hauck, WCSA president, and Ongio Tsui, WCSA vice president, social, in a joint email to The Varsity. “In the past we have always worked to ensure that measures were put in place to keep students safe at our events including sober leaders, wristbands to identify students, training, and strong communication with venues.”

Hauck and Tsui also told The Varsity that they have made changes to the event.

According to Hauck and Tsui, these changes include holding the event on a Tuesday instead of a Thursday or weekend evening, a move aimed at minimizing crowds at the venues. The event’s time has also changed, starting at 7:15 p.m and ending around 11:00 p.m.

Only Woodsworth students will be allowed to participate at the event this year, and the bars will either have a private section reserved for Woodsworth students or the entire bar will be booked out. No drink tickets will be handed out to students as they have been in previous years.

Hauck and Tsui said that more “sober leaders” are being added to the event to escort students to and from the streetcar, ensuring each person has a safe way home if they wish to leave early. According to Hauck and Tsui, the majority of the leaders will also be first aid certified. The “sober leaders” will each be responsible for a group of students, of whom they must keep track of throughout the night and whom students must check in with before leaving. All students will wear wristbands and each group will have different coloured wristbands.

WCSA has also introduced a “pre-event workshop” to tell students about “check-out” procedures” and to ensure they know whom to ask for help. The streetcar will also take the students back to campus this year.

A separate budget for “home-returning” has been allocated for students needing TTC tokens or taxi money, and leaders can accompany students if they are leaving alone.

With files from Iris Robin.

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