Alleged sexual assault comes to light at the Citizen Lab

2014 incident illuminated by letter from director, perpetrator fired

Alleged sexual assault comes to light at the Citizen Lab

An alleged sexual assault that coincided with a Citizen Lab event in 2014 was revealed in an open letter from Director Ronald Deibert, posted the Citizen Lab website last week. The alleged assaulter, Morgan Marquis-Boire, has been removed from his position as a security researcher and technical advisor with the lab.

According to the letter, posted on October 13, Marquis-Boire allegedly sexually assaulted another individual during the Citizen Lab-hosted Cyber Dialogue conference in March 2014.

In the letter, Deibert says Marquis-Boire requested to resign from the Citizen Lab’s technical advisory group in September, shortly before the accuser approached Deibert to inform him of the alleged sexual assault. Following this encounter, Deibert terminated Marquis-Boire’s position at the Citizen Lab.

Marquis-Boire also held positions at First Look Media, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. EFF has revoked affiliation with him following the sexual assault allegations.

Marquis-Boire did not respond to The Varsity’s attempts to contact him.

Deibert writes that he broached the possibility of pursuing legal action or going public with the unnamed individual, both of which the individual declined at the time. However, after a second consultation with the original party, Deibert wrote that he felt it was his “responsibility to make a public statement on behalf of the Citizen Lab.”

In the letter, Deibert states the Citizen Lab stands “behind survivors of sexual assault in all its forms, [supports] those who come forward to share their experiences, and [is] committed to creating safer spaces in our community.”

The letter indicates that the Citizen Lab incorporated a Code of Conduct in July 2017 to “clearly articulate what constitutes inappropriate behavior at events we organize.”

The Citizen Lab declined to comment beyond the scope of the letter. Similarly, U of T’s media relations did not directly address the alleged sexual assault, explaining to The Varsity that they were first made aware of the incident via Deibert’s letter on October 13.

In an interview for The Varsity regarding sexual violence policy at U of T, Executive Director, Personal Safety, High Risk and Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Terry McQuaid said, “We know that sexual violence is a broader societal issue, and universities are no different, they’re grappling with this issue as well.”

Deibert also alluded to the management of and attitudes toward sexual violence at the Citizen Lab in his letter. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely, are committed to ongoing internal dialogue, and aim to be responsive to feedback from our community,” Deibert writes. “This incident highlights that there is much work to be done to counter a toxic culture of sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence in many areas of the tech community, and we are fully committed to that fight.”

Focused on global security research and development, the Citizen Lab is based out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at U of T. The Citizen Lab has hosted the Cyber Dialogue conference annually since 2011. The conference invites private and public voices to discuss cyberspace security and governance.

Editor’s Note (October 23): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the alleged sexual assault occurred at the Citizen Lab event. In fact, the alleged sexual assault coincided with the Citizen Lab event. 

UTSU board impeaches Akshan Bansal at emergency meeting

Third round of hiring to select new vice president campus life

UTSU board impeaches Akshan Bansal at emergency meeting

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors voted to impeach Akshan Bansal, its former vice president, campus life from both the Executive Committee and the board. UTSU president Ben Coleman moved to impeach Bansal at an emergency meeting on December 30. The motion to remove Bansal from the UTSU Executive Committee passed with 24 votes in favour, two against, one abstention, and one spoiled ballot.

Immediately following the impeachment, the UTSU Executive Committee released a statement encouraging students to hold them to account. “It is important that, as the leaders of the UTSU, executives uphold the mission and values of the organization. We therefore encourage our members to continue to hold their elected leaders to account,” read part of the statement.

Bansal was impeached after a public allegation of sexual assault came to the attention of the UTSU executives on December 14. In the hours following the circulation of the allegation, the UTSU released a statement calling for Bansal’s impeachment and condemning rape culture on campus. The statement was signed by five of the seven UTSU executives.

Uranranebi Agbeyegbe, president of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and UTMSU designate on the UTSU’s Executive Committee, did not sign off on the original letter calling for Bansal’s impeachment. Instead, the UTMSU published a statement on December 22 calling for an investigation into the allegation against Bansal.

Agbeyegbe declined to comment for this story.

According to Jasmine Denike, UTSU vice president external, the allegation was a “tipping point,” but not the sole reason behind the impeachment; rather, it was the result of several complaints regarding Bansal’s job performance. “We don’t wish him ill and we wish him all the best, but we wanted to make sure students feel safe on campus. That is our first priority,” Denike said.

Previous complaints received by the UTSU’s Executive Review Committee (XRC) included claims that Bansal made sexist and sexual comments and was inebriated at work. The XRC investigated the grievances over the summer and recommended that Bansal be placed on probation, but did not recommend impeachment.

Immediately after the meeting at which he was impeached, Bansal told The Varsity that he was distraught.

A new vice president, campus life will be selected to fulfil the office for the remaining four months of the term. A hiring committee comprised of UTSU executives, with the possible addition of one or two UTSU board members, will be responsible for the appointment and will conduct interviews for the position after the January 15 application deadline.

This round of applications marks the third time that the hiring process for the position of vice president campus life has been opened this academic year. Denike noted that this time, the hiring process will be an improvement upon the previous two, where concerns were raised about the disproportionately low number of board members present.