U of T professors, faculty sign open letter calling for written apology on UTM handcuffing

Letter calls for immediate end to handcuffing practice, repeals of mandated leave policy

U of T professors, faculty sign open letter calling for  written apology on UTM handcuffing

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

An open letter drafted by Beverly Bain, a lecturer at the Women & Gender Studies Institute at UTM, and Vannina Sztainbok, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Justice Education, was sent to multiple university administrators on Tuesday. The letter, which was signed by over 130 professors, faculty members, and students, calls on the university to issue a written apology to Natalia Espinosa, the UTM student who was handcuffed by campus police earlier this semester.

Background

On October 2, Espinosa, a third-year student, sought help at the Health & Counselling Centre (HCC) for suicidal ideation. She was accompanied by her friend and fellow U of T student, Anita Mozaffari, who had been the one to urge Espinosa to seek support. After drafting a safety plan with a nurse — which involved Espinosa staying the night with Mozaffari — the nurse informed Espinosa that, per U of T protocol, campus police would have to speak with her for 10–15 minutes before she could leave.

During her talk with two campus police constables, Espinosa revealed that she had previously intended to die by suicide and that a specific location was involved in her plan. The officers then told her that they would have to transport her to a hospital because her plan included a real location.

Although Espinosa was willing to go to a hospital with them, the two officers maintained that they needed to handcuff her, which caused Espinosa to suffer a number of panic attacks in the ensuing hours.

When this incident initially came to light, a number of U of T campus groups released statements condemning the actions of campus police and called on the university to amend its policies. Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh also fielded a number of questions on the matter during a University Affairs Board meeting on November 13.

A university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Varsity that although U of T’s existing policies are in line with local law enforcement, “U of T is reviewing its police practices in this respect.”

Open letter

The document, entitled, “Open Letter Calling For End To Handcuffing Of Students,” amassed over 130 signatures from U of T community members in the five days between November 21, when the letter began circulating, and November 26. At that time, it was sent to U of T President Meric Gertler, Acting Vice-President and Principal at UTM Ian Orchard, and Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean of UTM Amrita Daniere.

The open letter, which was created and mainly signed by U of T professors and faculty members, cites their concerns with referring their students to U of T’s mental health services in light of this incident.

The letter reads: “As faculty and staff, we are trained to refer students to services, including the HCCs. Now, we have to seriously consider whether such a referral could lead to further harm. This leaves us, but more importantly students, bereft of options.”

The main demands include a written apology for Espinosa and compensation sent to her “for the trauma she experienced.” A number of policy changes were also proposed, such as excluding campus police from mental health situations by halting the practice of arresting and handcuffing students — instead, using other means to transport students to hospitals.

It also suggested ending the practice of encouraging invigilators to involve law enforcement when dealing with “difficult” students, repealing the university-mandated leave of absence policy, and hiring mental health professionals who are experienced in providing support to marginalized people. Finally, the authors suggested including student consultation throughout the reform process.

The authors of this letter are concerned with how issues of mental health are particularly pressing for those at an ‘intersection.’ They note that “Black students and students of colour who are female on all three of our campuses” are especially vulnerable in seeking mental health support.

When asked about the open letter, a U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity, stating “We have received the letter and will respond directly to the faculty members who have raised concerns.”

In conversation with Beverly Bain

Bain, one of the principal authors of the open letter, sat down with The Varsity to talk about her motivations behind advocating for Espinosa and for better mental health support at U of T.

Mozaffari, Espinosa’s friend who accompanied her that day to the HCC, is one of Bain’s students. When the handcuffing incident initially happened, both went to her for guidance. Since then, as this event has become more well-known, a number of other students have talked to Bain about experiences similar to Espinosa’s.

“This is not an isolated event,” said Bain, claiming that she is aware of five other similar incidents, with three students having already spoken to her about their experience.

She disagrees with the rationale behind U of T’s policy to handcuff students transported to hospitals. Mark Overton, Dean of Student Affairs at UTM, explained to The Varsity that these measures are in place to protect the safety of all those involved, both the student and the officer.

“If anything, [handcuffing students] heightens their anxiety, because it criminalizes them,” Bain said. She went on to add that “these students are not violent, there’s nothing to de-escalate. What creates escalation is putting them in handcuffs because then they panic and then they get upset.”

Bain hopes to see trained mental health professionals dealing with these issues, rather than campus police.

“In the case of [Espinosa], and all of the other cases, these students said to me that the campus police, they were really cruel. They were not at all supportive, they were not kind.”

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566

Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454

Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600

Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200

U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Campus police issue community alert for robberies at UTSG

U of T community urged to “take precautions”

Campus police issue community alert for robberies at UTSG

Campus police issued a community safety alert today following reports of multiple robberies in and around UTSG.

Queen’s Park, the intersection of College Street and Spadina Avenue, and the intersection of Willcocks Street and Huron Street were noted as particular areas of concern.

Safety recommendations include using the TravelSafer program, in which a special constable or security guard would accompany students at night.

“Please be aware of your surroundings and take precautions when you must walk alone,” reads the statement.

View this document on Scribd

Campus police can be reached at 416-978-2222.

U of T to review policies after UTM student handcuffed while seeking mental health support

Student Natalia Espinosa speaks on her experience, intersection of mental health with racialized identity

U of T to review policies after UTM student handcuffed while seeking mental health support

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

On October 2, Natalia Espinosa, a third-year student at UTM, was handcuffed by campus police at the Health & Counselling Centre (HCC), as first reported by The Medium. Though she had arrived at the HCC that day to seek support for suicidal ideation, Espinosa told The Varsity in an interview that she left the HCC in police custody, and was then escorted to Credit Valley Hospital.

In the aftermath of the news, student groups around U of T have strongly criticized the university’s policies, further strengthening their calls for change around how the administration is handling mental health. Though the university explained that its procedures are in line with local law enforcement practices, it told The Varsity that it will be reviewing its policies in light of this event.

The events of October 2

Espinosa described how, as a UTM student, she had always been told that she should go to the HCC in the event of a mental health crisis. Her friend and fellow U of T student, Anita Mozaffari, urged her to seek help, and Espinosa, with Mozaffari by her side, obliged and went to the HCC to request a meeting with a psychiatrist.

Upon arrival they were informed that the process of seeing a psychiatrist involved three steps. Espinosa would have to be seen by a mental health nurse, and then a doctor, before she’d finally be able to discuss her health issues with a psychiatrist. This process, they were told, could take a month or more.

Then the HCC receptionist notified them that the mental health nurse was not in that day. Espinosa told The Varsity that she became distressed upon hearing that she may not be able to immediately receive care. As she became more and more visibly upset, the HCC receptionist reportedly allowed Espinosa in to see a regular nurse.

With the nurse, Espinosa developed a safety plan which involved her staying the night with Mozaffari. After the plan was approved, the nurse then told Espinosa that, per U of T protocol, she would have to call campus police to have a “10–15 minute talk” with her before she could leave.

Two campus police constables arrived and Espinosa told them about her prior intention to end her life, and that her plan had included a specific location. The officers then told Espinosa that because her plan included a real location, they would have to place her under arrest and transport her to a hospital.

“I told them that I would be more than willing to go to the hospital,” said Espinosa, and yet campus police insisted that she needed to go in handcuffs. Once the handcuffs were placed on her, Espinosa began to experience a panic attack. She recounted how her distress was met with silence from the constables: “It seemed like the police didn’t know what they were doing.” In fact, it was Mozaffari who jumped in to calm her down.

Mozaffari described to The Varsity that the officers were ready to take Espinosa to their car, even while she was actively experiencing mental distress. “They didn’t even think to stop and calm her down and care for her.”

Espinosa was led out of the HCC and through the Davis Building, with a jacket placed over her handcuffs. Since the police car was not ready, she had to stand in the entrance to the building and face the stares of those passing by, making her feel criminalized.

They would not let Mozaffari ride with Espinosa to the hospital, and while she was alone in the back of the police cruiser, Espinosa experienced another panic attack and vomited.

Espinosa was admitted to the hospital and her handcuffs were eventually taken off. She was able to receive care and will continue seeking support there. In light of this incident, she said that she no longer trusts the mental health services provided by U of T.

Mozaffari sees this event as being indicative of a larger issue at U of T. Not only does she find the handcuffing protocol to be damaging, but she was shocked that someone who was suicidal, as Espinosa was that day, was asked to wait a month or more to receive care.

Espinosa also believes that U of T is not doing enough to combat mental health issues on campus and is angered by the actions of campus police in this situation. In light of her treatment, she has filed an official complaint with U of T.

Law enforcement policy on mental health

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson explained that while they cannot comment on any specific case, “The safety and wellbeing of those involved is the primary consideration in any situation” for the university. U of T will be re-examining their policies in light of this incident.

Mark Overton, Dean of Student Affairs at UTM, further explained that not all cases in which a student is suicidal will result in campus police bringing the student to the hospital. “It’s very much on a case-by-case basis.”

A number of considerations go into whether or not a campus police constable decides to handcuff and transfer a student to a hospital, with one main consideration being the expression of specific intentions to harm oneself. Overton went on to clarify that handcuffs are involved in order to ensure that individuals deemed at risk are safely brought to the hospital.

Both Espinosa and Mozaffari agree that having a protocol that involves handcuffing students who are reaching out for mental health support will deter those who are most vulnerable from coming forward. “When you’re in such a vulnerable position, you need to be treated with dignity and respect, and you need to be treated with care, because ultimately I believe this is a health care matter. It is not a police matter,” said Mozaffari.

Espinosa also claimed that, “The fact that they’re using handcuffs… is criminalizing and creating more stigma around mental health.” She further noted that she finds it unacceptable that law enforcement can act in mental health situations without health care professionals present.

Mental health at the intersection

Espinosa and Mozaffari believe that mental health is particularly pressing for those at an ‘intersection,’ such as women, racialized peoples, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

As a racialized woman, Mozaffari acknowledged that there are barriers to accessing mental health services for some more than others, and that police interactions can take on a radically different tone depending on your identity. “There will always be a slight fear when you’re interacting with police because statistically, they will treat you with more violence.”

Espinosa would like to see more services and initiatives aimed specifically at members of marginalized groups who experience mental health issues. She also wishes to see more diverse representation among those who handle people experiencing mental health crises, noting that her interaction with a female police officer that day was a much more calming experience than when she was interacting solely with male police officers.

After the events of October 2, Espinosa and Mozaffari told their story to Beverly Bain, who teaches at UTM. Bain has since begun advocating on behalf of Espinosa and will soon be releasing and circulating a letter to raise awareness of what happened to her.

Bain spoke with The Varsity to discuss the issues at hand.

Bain believes that for racialized women such as Espinosa, there is a greater vulnerability inherent in reaching out for mental health support. “It exposes them, it also puts them in a situation where they feel that their agency is denied… When they try to assert agency and voice [their needs] can easily be put in a situation where they can be put in danger by those law enforcement individuals.”

Bain sees the reason for this being that “women are not supposed to speak up, they are not supposed to say no, they’re not supposed to challenge authority.”

Community responses

In response to the events of October 2, the UTMSU released a statement condemning the actions of the police constables who put Espinosa in handcuffs and the policies that allowed this to unfold. “These actions taken by the HCC and the police are shameful and further the intimidation and discrimination that students face on our campus when accessing mental health services.” The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students, and the U of T Students’ Law Society all announced their support for the statement.

A petition has also been released calling for the university to publicly apologize for handcuffing Espinosa and to improve mental health services on campus. As of publishing time, the petition has over 130 signatures.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566

Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454

Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600

Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200

U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Campus Police have apprehended Hart House threat suspect

Apprehension follows yesterday’s community alert

Campus Police have apprehended Hart House threat suspect

Following yesterday’s alert about an individual apparently threatening action against Hart House, Campus Police announced today that the person in question has been taken into custody.

According to the community alert, Campus Police suspected a man by the name of Bojan Landekic, who is said to have previously trespassed on U of T property.

Toronto Police are involved in this matter and further information will be released as it becomes available.

Campus Police warn of threat against Hart House

Police looking for suspect, increasing security presence

Campus Police warn of threat against Hart House

Campus Police are warning the U of T community about a recent online threat that references a potential action against Hart House.

According to the community alert released today at 12:00 pm, Campus Police suspect a man by the name of Bojan Landekic.

He is described as male, Caucasian, approximately 40 years old, and 175 centimetres tall. He has a slim build, brown eyes, shaved head, and is partially blind.

Campus Police says that he has trespassed on University of Toronto property.

Officers will be patrolling throughout Hart House and the surrounding areas, and there will be an increased security presence.

Toronto Police are also involved in the investigation.

If you see this person, do not approach him but contact Campus Police immediately at 416-978-2222.

Campus Police labour union continues negotiations with U of T administration

Collective agreement expired almost a year ago, will stay in effect until new agreement signed

Campus Police labour union continues negotiations with U of T administration

The union representing U of T Campus Police, Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 519, is bargaining for a renewed agreement with the university since the last one expired on June 30, 2017. However, the expired agreement will continue to be in effect until either a new agreement is signed or conciliation proceedings have been completed. Bargaining began on March 30, 2018 to replace the old agreement, which was last struck on July 1, 2013. No updates regarding the process have been made available on the university’s website as of December 14, 2017.

The Varsity spoke with Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President Human Resources and Equity, regarding future bargaining between the union and the university.

“As always, our goal is to have productive and constructive rounds of bargaining to reach a collective agreement,” said Hannah-Moffat in an email. “The University and the Union have had three bargaining dates so far and are scheduled to meet again on May 31, 2018.”

The union’s collective agreement outlines union representation, labour relations, and employee benefits. Article 1 of the old agreement stated, “The Employer recognizes the Union as the exclusive collective bargaining agent with respect to all matters properly arising under the terms of this Agreement for all constables, security officers and security guards employed by the University of Toronto, save and except Sergeants, persons above the rank of Sergeant and persons currently covered by any other bargaining unit.”

Most notably, Article 5.01 of the expired agreement covers the event of a strike amongst employees and the labour union: “The Union agrees and undertakes that there will be no strikes, as defined in the Labour Relations Act and the Employer agrees and undertakes that there will be no lockout as defined in the Labour Relations Act during the term of this Agreement.”

Campus Police has three stations located on the St. George, Scarborough, and Mississauga campuses. It protects the safety of roughly 80,000 students, faculty, and staff across three campuses.

Editor’s Note (June 1): This article has been updated to clarify that the expired collective agreement will stay in effect until either a new agreement is signed or conciliation proceedings have been completed.

Disappearance of funds at VCDS stirs suspicions of theft

$800 missing from cash box in locked VCDS office

Disappearance of funds at VCDS stirs suspicions of theft

Sometime between October 31, 2017 and November 10, 2017, $800 in cash went missing from the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) cash box, located in a locked office. According to the society, eight members of VCDS have access to the office, located within the larger Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) office, as do housekeeping staff and the VUSAC president. VCDS believes the money was stolen.

While cleaning their office during the fall reading week, VCDS co-producers Alyssa DiBattista and Leora Nash discovered the empty cash box, but they originally thought nothing of it.

“We assumed that our Chief Financial Officer, George Wilson, must have deposited the revenue from our first show into our bank account. Later in the month (before our second show), however, George went to count the amount in the money box, to be used as a float for our second show, only to find that there was only the small amount I had seen during reading week,” wrote DiBattista.

Wilson wrote that much of the money allegedly stolen had been “inherited by past years executives who often kept cash from shows in the office,” assuming the cash was revenue from past shows. Most of that money was deposited into VCDS’ bank account, but the money in the cashbox at the time of the supposed robbery was kept as float for the VCDS production of Colours in the Storm, which ran in mid-October of last year. The $800 consisted of the float cash and one night’s revenue from the show.

DiBattista clarified that the VCDS exec assumed that the money was stolen because only she, Nash, and Wilson deal with money or the cash box. “We didn’t want to conclude that the money had been removed illicitly but it became more and more clear to us; no one else had used the money box on official business since the end of our first show. At some point, it just disappeared, and the only reason we could conclude was that someone got access or had access to the office, and took the money.”

The incident has resulted in the VCDS employing stricter policies regarding how it handles its cash. “While there have always been official policies on money handling and counting, there had never really been anything specifically addressing money in the locked VCDS office,” said Wilson. According to Wilson, the new policy is that no cash will be left unattended in the VCDS office, and the drama society will now be using VUSAC’s safe or VCDS’ own bank account whenever possible.

Additionally, non-VCDS members will not be allowed in the office outside of normal hours, and keyholders will only be allowed to enter the office for VCDS purposes. “Our fall production of The Drowsy Chaperone occurred under these new policies without incident, and we believe the policies will continue to succeed,” said Wilson.

DiBattista claimed that there was a history of stolen money within the VUSAC office. “However, this was the first time money was stolen from inside a private, locked office at VUSAC and it was also the largest amount of money stolen, so we felt the need to respond thoroughly. We feel extremely disappointed because the purpose of having an office for our organization is to have a safe and useful space, but that’s been compromised, and it feels violating,” wrote DiBattista.

The co-producers brought up the matter at a VUSAC meeting but were advised that there could not be an investigation. They were asked to consider more secure methods for storing funds that must remain in the office for short periods of time.

As to why there was no investigation, VUSAC President Zahavah Kay said, “Ultimately it was decided that the best and most practical solution was to improve security moving forward. VUSAC has supported this decision by recommending all levies purchase safes for their offices, limit key sharing, and keep the office locked at all times.” VUSAC itself has also increased security by decreasing the number of office keys distributed, as well as limiting after-hours access to the office.

As of press time, there is no update to the identity of a perpetrator, and Campus Police have not been informed of the alleged theft.

Correction (January 8): a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that only eight people have access to the VCDS office, and that the cash box was locked. In fact, the cash box does not have a lock, and eight members of VCDS, as well as the VUSAC president and housekeeping staff, have access to the office. 

Trinity administration responds to vote of no confidence, allegations

Provost Moran elaborates on alcohol ban, plans for reconciliation

Trinity administration responds to vote of no confidence, allegations

In response to a vote of no confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students on September 25, Mayo Moran, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Trinity College, sent an email to all Trinity students.

In the email, Moran says that “some of the decisions [of the Dean’s office], particularly where they involve discipline, will be the source of unavoidable tension between some of the students and the Dean’s Office which is responsible, among other things, for maintaining discipline.”

“I realize that some of the allegations may worry you, particularly because you do not have the full details,” Moran’s email reads, “But I do want to assure you, as your Provost, that the Dean and her staff approach all student issues in an attentive, thoughtful way.”

The administration and students have been working to resolve dissatisfaction over how the college has handled a number of recent events, including an alleged assault of Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari while two assistant deans watched, and the Provost’s decision to suspend alcohol-licensed events at the college.

“We are working with the student leaders and others on a plan to re-establish the strong working relationships that enable us to hold the unique events that Trinity students enjoy,” wrote Moran in an email to The Varsity.

Monavari said that “students are disappointed–to say the least.”

A few weeks after the vote of no confidence was passed, Moran issued a temporary ban on alcohol-licensed events at the college, stressing that “the well-being of all our students is our top priority.”

“Because of serious concerns arising out of recent student-organized parties in residence, I placed the privilege of hosting licensed student-organized events on hold,” she said. “The hold will remain in place until we can be confident that future student-organized events can be conducted safely and responsibly, and with regard for the larger student body and applicable law and policies.”

The vote of no confidence was motivated in part by Monavari’s assertion that he was assaulted by a Campus Police officer while Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life Adam Hogan and Assistant Dean of Students for Student Life Christine Cerullo stood by and watched.

Monavari consequently filed a complaint with Campus Police. He says that the Campus Police had confirmed that they received his complaint during the last week of September but have not contacted him since.

Another motivation was the college’s alleged mishandling of Trinity student Tamsyn Riddle’s sexual assault case, which resulted in Riddle filing a human rights complaint against the college and U of T.

Monavari stated that many of the events included in the TCM motion had “no causal link to alcohol.”

“By focusing on alcohol, the administration has effectively turned its attention away from the source of the issues,” said Monavari. “The assault that took place on September 23rd was enabled by a failure to act–not alcohol.”

Monavari notes that the Dean’s office’s “inability to follow up right after the incident was a result of negligence– not alcohol,” and that Riddle’s human rights complaint was a result of “inadequate policy and decision-making–not alcohol.”

Despite this, Monavari says communication between the student leaders and administration has been “very professional.”

“We are working towards a reconciliation process between the Heads team and the Dean’s Office; this will be done with the aid of a third-party counsel,” he said. “It is important to emphasize the following: there is no personal animosity between the student heads and the Dean’s office.”

“We are also looking to any ways to improve what we do and are hopeful that something positive will come out of this difficult set of circumstances,” said Moran.

Campus Police did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

All statements sent to The Varsity by Moran were made on behalf of the college and its staff.