‘It doesn't matter because it didn't happen on campus’

McGill context limits scope of disciplinary actions

Shrinkhala Dawadi & Julia Dick
Contributor & Editor-In-Chief

On the night of Sept. 18, 2015, two McGill students went to a party in the Plateau, not a far walk. They were told about it by another friend, and decided to go after Blues Pub—the Engineering Undergraduate Society’s on-campus bar.

It was a standard night at the start of the semester, and Anna* felt excited about her future. Would she apply to medical school or pursue a graduate degree? Would she look for a job or go travelling? As it is for any student in their final year, the future seemed wide open.

On their way to the party, Anna and her roommate were harassed by a group of four or five men who began to catcall them as they walked by St.-Laurent.

“I yelled something along the lines of, you know, ‘F off, leave us alone,’ as I have become accustomed to yell when men catcall me [....] And then one of them yelled very distinctly in a British accent, ‘Bitch, come here and suck my dick,’ and they were right behind us [....] I've been catcalled before, but this was like really aggressive. I would not normally engage to this extent. They were right behind us, so my roommate and I turned around and I had this kind of short verbal confrontation with this guy with a British accent.”

The confrontation ended when Anna and her roommate broke away to take another route to the party.

She described it as a typical McGill party, people streaming in and out of the apartment, and an indoor walk-up to the party itself.

Anna’s roommate was the first to enter. Before she could follow up the stairs, Anna was blocked by the same man with the British accent who had catcalled them earlier.

She later learned that this individual’s name is Conrad Gaysford, a current McGill student.

At first, she didn’t realize that this was the same person, but when he demanded that they speak outside, she recognized him. She stepped back and asked what he wanted.

“[I] distinctly remember there [were] two of them, [and Gaysford] just basically started screaming in my face [....] And initially I found it funny, to be completely honest with you. I laughed at the idea of someone yelling at me for having responded to being catcalled [....] At one point, he asked me to hit him. That's when it really clicked that this [was] a dangerous situation and we [needed] to diffuse this and get out of here [....] I shrugged, put my hands behind my back, and said, ‘I have no intention of fighting a man twice my size, this is not happening. I'm sorry for yelling at you.’ I distinctly remember [telling myself], 'You need to swallow your pride and get out of here, like who cares about the principle?' [....] He said, ‘No, admit you're a stupid bitch first.’ At which point, I was like, that's never gonna happen. I'm literally never gonna do that. And then he punched me in the face as hard as he could in the lower left side of my jaw. Knocked me out cold right away. I fell back into the street.”

Unconscious, she fell back, striking her head on the pavement.

“When I woke up on the ground I had no idea how long I was unconscious for [....] I was alone, I didn't know who the people were that found me, I don't know who called the ambulance. I don't know anything really about that period of time, which is really unsettling. And I immediately started vomiting, which I later learned [was] from the impact on my head. And when I opened my mouth, I felt my jaw, [...] and immediately it clicked like, oh, that person knocked my lights out.”

Her roommate came down from the party after the ambulance was called. When she realized that it was Anna in the ambulance, she managed to get in, and together they went to Hôpital Jean-Talon.

“I don't know how to describe that feeling of shame. Like it was my fault. And that day I was like, ‘If I'm ok tomorrow, I'm not telling a soul about this.’ And I still don't understand why I felt that way.”

The hospital performed an X-Ray and a CT scan to determine that there weren’t any major breaks or bleeding. Anna was given a pamphlet with information on traumatic brain injuries, and was told to come back if she experienced any of the symptoms described.

She went home the next day, still vomiting and bruised from the assault.

“I don't know how to describe that feeling of shame. Like it was my fault. And that day I was like, ‘If I'm ok tomorrow, I'm not telling a soul about this.’ And I still don't understand why I felt that way.”

At the prompting of her family, Anna and her roommate went to the Montreal police, who initially said that they would be unable to help without the name or another way of identifying the attacker. At first, Anna was disheartened by the police’s response, but eventually used social media to identify him. Through Facebook, they found out that he was enrolled at McGill. After providing the police with this information, they agreed to investigate.

Three days after the assault, the severity of Anna’s symptoms had increased. She was vomiting, in severe pain, and unable to sleep or attend classes. The Montreal General Hospital diagnosed her with a concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), and was provided a referral brain injury clinic. She was put on two weeks of bed rest and told to remain in environments with low lighting and minimal stimulation.

“At the end of [those] two weeks, I was improved but still having these persistent symptoms [....] I didn’t understand why I was having insomnia, didn't understand why I was still vomiting, and I attributed it to anxiety. Like my anxiety about school, about what happened, I was having nightmares about him [....] And this kind of carried on to the point where [...] it's like mid-October, I've been not really eating, not keeping things down. I've lost around 15 pounds.”

Her voice broke for a moment, and she paused before going on.

“Sorry, okay. Uh, it was so bad. And I realized I needed to go to the university [....] And I was so relieved to see that [Gaysford] was a McGill student because my immediate thought was ‘Thank God, if the police don't come through for me, McGill will. Like, they're pro-survivor, they're going to help me,’ like I genuinely felt relief.”

"And I was so relieved to see that [Gaysford] was a McGill student because my immediate thought was ‘Thank God, if the police don't come through for me, McGill will. Like, they're pro-survivor, they're going to help me,"

Anna was told that the university was unable to initiate proceedings because the assault had not taken place within the McGill context. Later, in November 2015, Gaysford was arrested by the Montreal police, and formally charged with assault causing bodily harm and criminal harassment. The police also filed a restraining order against Gaysford on Anna’s behalf. Shortly after this, Anna went to the university for a second time, informed them of Gaysford’s arrest, and asked if formal disciplinary procedures could be initiated against Gaysford. Once again, she was told that the university was unable to take action.

Anna’s symptoms did not improve as the months went by. Over the 2015 winter break, she saw a local physiatrist, a doctor who specialized in brain injury.

“[The doctor] essentially sat me down and was like, ‘Look, you're not going back anytime soon. You need to drop out, and you're going to pursue full-time rehabilitation at home.’ And out of everything that had happened in the past four months, that was the worst thing because there was no end date [....] I was not going to finish my degree. I was not going to apply to medical school like I wanted. I was not going to do grad school, I was not going do any of those things because I could barely get myself to the bathroom.”

Anna withdrew from full-time classes in January 2016 and was admitted to the brain injury outpatient rehabilitation program at Parkwood Hospital in London, Ontario.

"Out of everything that had happened in the past four months, that was the worst thing because there was no end date [....] I was not going to finish my degree. I was not going to apply to medical school like I wanted. I was not going to do grad school, I was not going do any of those things because I could barely get myself to the bathroom.”

“I have a very hard time explaining how devastating it was to go from four months prior, trying to think of what path would be best suited for me, [...] and then suddenly I'm sitting at this desk in a hospital being told the most effective way to get my groceries without getting lost in the grocery store, without forgetting what's on my list. And the really awful part is that was really happening to me. I tried to get groceries at Provigo—a grocery shop that I've been going to for four years—and I got lost [....] And it was compounded by the fact that he was still here. He was still here. He was going to classes, no problem, and I was sitting in a hospital in London and he had had very little repercussion.”

"And it was compounded by the fact that he was still here. He was still here. He was going to classes, no problem, and I was sitting in a hospital in London and he had had very little repercussion.""

Over the summer, Anna recovered enough to take a class at the University of Western Ontario. The process of having to learn how to study with post-concussive syndrome was excruciating. She had to re-build her tolerance to stimulation, studying five minutes at a time. Studying for too long would leave her vomiting, dizzy, and sick. It was a long process, but she gradually increased her tolerance. Ultimately, she finished the course at the top of her class.

Determined to graduate as soon as possible, Anna re-enrolled in full-time studies at McGill in September 2016. The weeks leading up to her return to full-time studies were extremely challenging to her mental health.

“The anxiety about coming back, being alone at school, knowing he was here, seeing him on campus, knowing that [...] there was little recourse. There was like no one for me to go to other than just calling 911 if something were to happen [....] It completely took over and I had a really horrible depressive episode [....] I don't even identify with that person because it seems so far removed from who I am [....] At the end of August, I saw a psychiatrist and I had to be medicated for my mood because it was completely out of control, and I'm thankful for that because it helps keep me steady now, I guess.”

  • The assault occurs and Anna is taken to Jean Talon hospital
    Sept. 18, 2015
  • Anna is discharged from Jean Talon
    Sept. 19, 2015
  • Anna and her roommate file a police report
    Sept. 20, 2015
  • Montreal General Hospitral provides diagnosis of MTBI
    Sept. 21, 2015
  • Anna meets with then-Dean of Students Andre Costopoulos
    September 2015
  • Following Gaysford’s arrest, Anna goes back to the Dean of Students
    November 2015
  • Anna withdraws from McGill University as advised by her doctor and is admitted to outpatient rehabilitation program
    January 2016
  • Anna enrolls in a summer course at the University of Western Ontario
    May 2016
  • Anna re-enrolls at McGill and takes 16 credits
    September 2016
  • Anna takes the conditions of Gaysford’s release and the restraining order to Dean of Students Christopher Buddle
    November 2016
Anna’s journey
Hover over the dates to read more.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Since the initial ambulance, the costs have increased exponentially.

To assist with attention and cognitive issues resulting from the concussion, she received a recommendation to acquire a frequency modulated (FM) hearing system the cost $4,000. Without this system, her return to full-time studies would have been unlikely.

“[I] went to the hearing clinic where I had to get my hearing tested because I was having this horrible constant ringing in my ears, which can be a symptom of MTBI, and they basically told me that there's nothing we can do for it, you have to wait and hope that it goes away. But we really think that, if you're going to return to school, you need this hearing system because you have now this deficit where you can't filter out background noise and in a lecture setting it's going to be extremely difficult for you to focus without getting symptomatic.”

The total out of pocket cost to date, even after seeking assistance from insurance companies, is over $8,000.

Beyond the medical costs, Anna struggles to explain the consequences of MTBI to others. As an injury that relies mostly on patient-reported information, post-concussive syndrome is difficult to quantify.

“After this type of injury, you still have a tolerance for activity, but it's just way lower than it used to be. So when my days used to be from 7 to 6, going to school, going to the gym, then doing this and doing that. Initially, in January [my days] were: Get up, take a shower, maybe get to a physio appointment, don't drive myself because I couldn't drive without vomiting, be driven to a physio appointment, and then come home and sleep, and I was exhausted [....] And so, the past year and a half of my life has been this like constant battle to push that tolerance up a little bit higher.”

Ambulance: $136.44

Lost tuition after withdrawing from classes in Fall 2015: $1,582.45

Flight home mid-semester in Fall 2015: $850

Foregone rent on her apartment after withdrawing from McGill: $675 per month, $2,700 overall

Physiotherapy treatment for her neck injury and concussive symptoms: $1,045

Psychotherapy as prescribed by her specialist at Parkwood Hospital: $2,560

Botox treatment to treat migraines: $852.10 per treatment

Frequency modulated (FM) hearing system to assist with attention and cognitive issues resulting from the concussion: $4,000


Total out of pocket cost to date: $8,000

The Courts

In March 2016, Gaysford pled not guilty to all charges. As such, the case moved to trial proceedings, and Anna was summoned to court in April 2016 to testify as a witness. Anna described the proceedings leading up to the trial as extremely labour intensive on her part. Her prosecutor asked her to compile as much medical documentation of her condition and treatment following the assault as possible. At the April hearing, the defence objected that they had not had enough time to review the prosecution’s evidence, and the hearing was postponed to May 2016.

Gaysford did not appear for his court date in May. After reaching out to the court herself, Anna was told that Gaysford was out of the country. Because of his absence, Gaysford’s court hearing was postponed for the second time to September 2016. After returning to school, Anna went to the next court date in September, almost a year to the day since the assault. While she was not called to be a witness, she wanted to make sure that he appeared in court.

Ultimately, the attorney for the defence asked to postpone the case. The defence was granted a postponement until Nov. 25, 2016, and then until Nov. 29, 2016.

Thirteen months after his arrest, and after four postponed hearings, Gaysford admitted guilt before the court on Nov. 29, 2016. The McGill Tribune acquired audio of the court proceedings, a portion of which is quoted below. The first person to speak is Elizabeth Corriveau, lawyer for the prosecution. The presiding Judge is the Honourable Louise Baribeau.

Corriveau: It’s instigated by the group of young men, which Mr. Gaysford is a part of [....] It began with insults. Calling names like ‘bitch,’ ‘suck my dick,’ back and forth. The girls respond as well. They end up at the same party without knowing [...], where they see each other again, and to which, then Mr. Gaysford will ask [Anna] if she will fight him, which she will say no [....] She places her hands behind her back saying that she doesn’t want to fight him. And out of the blue, he will punch her to the jaw and she will fall to the pavement and hit her head. The injuries, your honour, are quite serious and severe. She will be diagnosed with brain trauma, severe concussion, a fracture to her jaw [....] She will have amnesia, she will have to stop her studies for quite some time.

At this point, there is a discussion over auxiliary facts of the case. Gaysford’s defence attorney states that Gaysford does not recall Anna placing her hands behind her back and saying that she will not fight him. The defense lawyer reads out the conditions of Gaysford’s release.

Defense Lawyer: Mr. Gaysford you heard the facts?

Gaysford: I did, yes.

Defense Lawyer: And you admit that that's how all of this happened?

Gaysford: I agree with it, your honour.

  • Gaysford is arrested at McGill University
    November 2015
  • Gaysford pleads not guilty
    Dec. 2, 2015
  • Gaysford formally enters plea of not guilty
    Mar. 26, 2016
  • Anna attends Gaysford’s court date
    Sept. 19, 2016
  • Gaysford admits to the facts as presented in court
    Nov. 29, 2016
  • Date of Gaysford’s next appearance in court
    May 26, 2017
Court Proceedings
Hover over the dates to read more.

The sentencing hearing is postponed until May 26, 2017 in order to allow Gaysford to graduate from McGill.

“I believe so much in these institutions on the outside, right, you believe McGill is pro-survivor, they're going to be there for you, [...the] justice system is going to be there for you, you have evidence, you did the right thing, you went to the police. But really [...] you have to bring so much with you. I feel like I've been building my own case this whole time, collecting evidence [....] I have entire files on my computer dedicated to, like, my medical expenses, this, this, this. It's like its own full-time job that's taken over part of my life.”

"In navigating the process of filing a police report and testifying as a witness in the Municipal Court of the Ville de Montreal, to attempting to find recourse within the university, Anna has felt disheartened."

“I believe so much in these institutions on the outside, right, you believe McGill is pro-survivor, they're going to be there for you, [...the] justice system is going to be there for you, you have evidence, you did the right thing, you went to the police. But really [...] you have to bring so much with you. I feel like I've been building my own case this whole time, collecting evidence [....] I have entire files on my computer dedicated to, like, my medical expenses, this, this, this. It's like its own full-time job that's taken over part of my life.”

McGill Context

Anna spoke with Andre Costopoulos, who was then dean of students, at the end of September 2015, and he told her that there wasn’t much McGill could do because the assault had happened outside of the McGill context.

“I told him what happened and he didn't give me the response I expected [....] I really thought that there would be more"

The McGill context outlines what situations and events McGill University has jurisdiction to oversee and take disciplinary action on. Typically, the McGill context encompasses McGill property as well as any classes McGill may hold as a part of a field-studies program. Events organized by student clubs and associations off-campus are not typically considered within the McGill context, although the McGill administration has made recent efforts at expanding the context to include these types of events.

Costopoulos offered to notify security and have a disciplinary officer (DO) meet with Gaysford to discuss voluntary conditions, where Gaysford would agree to not interact with Anna on campus or be near her. A year and a half later, her frustration with this outcome is palpable.

“I told him what happened and he didn't give me the response I expected [....] I really thought that there would be more, [....] I had to reschedule meetings with [Costopoulos] to go back and be like, this is not enough. Let alone all these physical issues I'm having, if I can get to class to just get notes, I don't want to because he's somewhere on campus [....And the conditions] are all on a voluntary basis, this is the university meeting with him and being like 'Hey, we heard you assaulted this girl, do you mind staying out of Wong? Do you mind?'”

In 2015, Anna found out that Gaysford had a class in the Rutherford Physics Building, where she also had a class. She asked Costopoulos if Gaysford could be prohibited from entering the building, but was told that the university was unable to enforce such a restriction because they could not disrupt Gaysford’s academics. Ultimately, Anna withdrew from the class she had in Rutherford.

Anna’s starting corresponding with the administration in the final year of Andre Costopolous’ term as Dean of Students. When she returned to McGill in Fall 2016, Christopher Buddle had been appointed as dean.

When asked to comment on Anna’s case, Buddle stated that he is unable to comment on specific cases due to the university’s privacy policies.

He explained the process that his office goes through when they receive a notification of an event on campus involving a breach of the Code of Student Conduct.

“There's always a discussion of the context early on because in some cases it's very clear that the situation is, let’s say on university property, between two students, and I would normally, if they want to file a formal complaint, move that onto the disciplinary officer, and then we would have a formal process,” Buddle said. “[....] In situations that are less clear, typically there's a discussion around the context, around what happened, and around the applicability of the code to the particular situation.”

According to Buddle, the conversation around the code has changed in recent years, particularly in regards to the scope of the context.

"Normally it's a conversation, it’s understanding the parameters of the case and having a discussion around the reporting structure, and the discussion always also includes an opportunity that a student can follow external processes with the police, for example.”

“It's something that we're continually working on because we recognize that it's difficult in some cases to understand what the context is,” Buddle said. “[....] Normally it's a conversation, it’s understanding the parameters of the case and having a discussion around the reporting structure, and the discussion always also includes an opportunity that a student can follow external processes with the police, for example.”

McGill publishes an annual report on harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination prohibited by law. The 2015-2016 report noted that 39 instances of complaints had been recorded in that year. Four complaints were formally resolved, five were informally resolved, and the remaining 30 complaints were not pursued beyond the inquiry stage or were withdrawn.

Angella Campbell, associate provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity), explained why the vast majority of complaints do not reach resolution procedures.

“It is often the case that people inquire about processes and options as to how to proceed if they have a matter of concern,” Campbell wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Formal processes are but one option, and that is why it's logical for many cases not to go beyond the inquiry/information-gathering stage.”

Out of the four complaints that underwent formal resolution proceedings, three were categorized as founded. The report notes that disciplinary measures were pursued for Anna’s complaint. At this stage in the complaint resolution process, an assessor will conduct an investigation into Anna’s complaint to decide whether it is founded or unfounded. Campbell described the difference between these two categories.

“This occurs pursuant to an investigation conducted by an assessor,” Campbell wrote. “[....] When the assessor concludes that sufficient evidence has not been adduced to establish that the conduct in question constituted harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination prohibited by law as these terms are defined by [McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence].”

Following updates to Anna’s case in Fall 2016, she went to see Buddle with the details of the restraining order and the update that Gaysford was admitting to the charges.

"He did offer that we could have a disciplinary hearing, we could follow that route, but I said at this point, like, what's the point? What's the most a disciplinary hearing could offer? Voluntary conditions? "

“I took this information to him and I took this restraining order, and he essentially said like, you know these are the confines of the McGill context and that we need to try to figure out a way that, you know, I can be successful and limit my contact with him, but there is no [...] recourse available. He did offer that we could have a disciplinary hearing, we could follow that route, but I said at this point, like, what's the point? What's the most a disciplinary hearing could offer? Voluntary conditions? I already have a formal restraining order, right, so he agreed to voluntary conditions again.”

Even after consultation with Buddle and a formal restraining order, Anna has struggled to share the campus with her attacker. The university informs Gaysford which areas to avoid and when, but even these must be agreed upon. If he ever violates the conditions of the restraining order, it is up to Anna to contact security services or the police.

“It's cruel that I'm in this circumstance and with all of this, all these things that I have to deal with, aside from the assault, to try to do well in school. I also have to rub shoulders with him. Like, I don't think anyone could understand what that does to you without having experienced assault of some kind, or some kind of trauma like that. I saw him the night before an exam, [...] which is objectively stressful and difficult on its own, and now I get to spend the entire night having nightmares about what happened to me. That's what it does. That's not abnormal at all. That's a perfectly normal response to that kind of trauma.”

Anna reflected on what it’s been like to return to the same university that her attacker attends.

"There's no part of my life that has not been affected by this. Then I have to deal with the court case, and then I have to deal with the university, and it genuinely felt like I had to build my own argument for any kind of recourse."

“He's on campus, [...] he's just completely unaffected, and here I am taking a fistfull of medication [...] three times a day, wearing a hearing aid in class, writing accommodated exams. Like, there's no part of my life that has not been affected by this. Then I have to deal with the court case, and then I have to deal with the university, and it genuinely felt like I had to build my own argument for any kind of recourse. And I feel like I have so much evidence [....] Endless medical records. Real physical issues that I'm going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future, and it doesn't matter because it didn't happen on campus [...], which is absurd. It's fully absurd.”

The Code of Student Conduct, last revised in 2013, is up for revisions in September 2017.

“I’m sharing this because I want a positive outcome. Placing blame on any one person or institution for my experience doesn’t serve anyone. Instead, I want to identify where we can improve. Belonging to an institution like McGill comes with a clear commitment to academic integrity, but I believe it should include an understanding of personal integrity, on and off campus. A violent crime is a violent crime, regardless of geographical location. The student code is ours to modify as we see fit, and as an academic institution, we need to identify when our actions are insufficient. When we’ve failed our students. And when we need to change for the better.”

Gaysford did not respond to the Tribune’s requests for comment.

*Name changed at request of the student.



Due to an error in editing, the sentence 'Gaysford’s defence attorney states that Gaysford does not recall Anna placing her hands behind her back and saying that she will not fight him' was omitted. The Tribune regrets this error.
A previous version of this article incorrectly recorded that it was the Honourable Louise Baribeau who read out the facts to Gaysford. In fact, these facts were read out by the defence lawyer.