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CIUT radio: the voice for everyone who doesn’t complain

U of T radio station’s treatment of host Jamaias DaCosta reveals faulty policies and anti-Indigenous sentiment
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Earlier in March, The Varsity reported on allegations made by Jamaias DaCosta, an Indigenous CIUT radio host who was suspended in February. DaCosta claimed that CIUT had mishandled her sexual harassment complaint and suspended her for criticizing the radio station on the air.

According to DaCosta, an unnamed CIUT host, “behaved inappropriately toward her, including touching her, coming into the studio drunk, and calling her names like ‘sugar.’”

DaCosta also claims that CIUT repeatedly violated her confidentiality, first by sharing her name in an email with the accused to thank them for their patience during the investigation, and again when she was named as the complainant in the case during the CIUT Board of Directors meeting in January.

The accused in DaCosta’s sexual harassment case has since been suspended. DaCosta herself was suspended after criticizing the station and media coverage of Colten Boushie’s death and the trial of his killer, and the media coverage of Tina Fontaine’s death.

CIUT’s behavior in this situation is unacceptable, and the station’s staff have offered no apology to DaCosta or even any kind of satisfactory explanation for their actions.

First, they violated DaCosta’s privacy by sharing her name with the Board of Directors and with the person she is accusing of sexual harassment in the first place. Then, they offered half-hearted excuses as to why this happened.

Finally, they gave contradictory explanations about the reasons for DaCosta’s suspension from the station — all of which ironically seem to centre on the fact that DaCosta was criticizing how the media, CIUT included, treats Indigenous people.

When CIUT President Steve Fruitman was asked about DaCosta’s complaints, he stated, “There’s been no breach from our side. No members have seen our agendas. No members have seen our minutes.”

Essentially, Fruitman seems to be admitting that he showed DaCosta’s complaint to the Board with her name revealed as the accuser, but with the excuse that the members haven’t seen the agendas or minutes.

Either Fruitman is saying the Board’s minutes and agendas are not accessible to members, showing a lack of transparency on the part of the board, or he is admitting that DaCosta’s name and complaint were, in fact, made available to the members, but that they haven’t seen it. Fruitman’s dismissal of DaCosta’s concerns is also flippant, and seems to suggest he doesn’t take them very seriously.

Further criticisms can be directed at CIUT’s failure to enforce their sexual harassment policy in the case of DaCosta’s complaint. The policy states that investigations should be wrapped up in a timely manner — preferably around a month — yet DaCosta’s complaint has been ongoing since November 2017.

Fruitman stated that the station acted immediately in response to DaCosta’s complaint, but offered no explanation for the delay.

It should also be noted that CIUT’s policy itself might be in need of review due to its age — Fruitman suggested that most of CIUT’s policies, including this one, date back to 1988. While Fruitman did acknowledge that parts of the policy needed to be improved, he also stated that most of CIUT’s policies “are good for almost forever… They’re just basic rules we’ve always had, since 1988.”

Any policy dealing with a sensitive issue like sexual harassment probably will not be good for ‘almost forever,’ and clearly the policy could be improved, or at least needs to come with more teeth in terms of enforcement, as it has been months since the initial complaint and little has been resolved.

CIUT’s decision to suspend DaCosta is also unacceptable. The supposed reasoning behind DaCosta’s suspension was that she discussed the trial of Boushie’s killer on air.

In an email to DaCosta, station manager Ken Stowar stated, “The comment [that DaCosta made] was such that CIUT-FM could be held criminally responsible for interfering with the rights of an individual for a fair trial.”

Setting aside the issue of whether DaCosta could in fact be charged under the Criminal Code for her comments, which remains unclear, it is problematic in principle that she as an Indigenous person was censored, for daring to speak critically about how the criminal justice system handled the deaths of Boushie and of Fontaine, both Indigenous youths.

However, it turns out that the real reason DaCosta was suspended, according to her suspension email, was due to “disparaging comments made on air and online… about CIUT and its board of directors.”

On the same show that she made her comments about Boushie, DaCosta also noted that while CIUT presents itself as a “safe space,” it does not actually function as one, and is thus not fulfilling its role as a community radio station.

The official suspension email DaCosta received from CIUT, unlike the one sent to her by Stowar, did not mention her comments about Boushie’s killer at all.  

The lesson here, for DaCosta and for everyone watching this case, is that criticism of student media, or even commentary on current events, is unacceptable if it goes against the ideals of the media organization. As someone who expresses my opinion in student media on a regular basis, I am particularly appalled by these actions.

Student media, like all media, needs to be held accountable. There are already so few spaces for Indigenous students to express their opinions in a public forum, and CIUT is seemingly taking away one of them because DaCosta has criticized the station.

CIUT’s treatment of DaCosta’s sexual harassment complaint is one example of many. In January, a crowdsourced survey from The Professor is In revealed at least 16 instances of sexual harassment at U of T, mostly among graduate students being harassed by professors. The results of this survey arguably represent only a sample of a larger body of complaints, many of which never see the light of day.

When victims of sexual harassment see cases like DaCosta’s, still governed by a policy that hasn’t been updated since the 80s and that isn’t properly enforced, it’s no wonder that they may be reluctant to come forward.

If CIUT is so proud of its policies, including those on sexual harassment, it needs to actually enforce them. And if things go wrong, the correct response is to offer an apology to the victims — a genuine one — instead of making vague excuses and suspending them for expressing their opinions.

Adina Heisler is a third-year student at University College studying Women and Gender Studies and English. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.