In 2016 at the London, Ontario, General Assembly, I was hanging out with some fellow attendees when one showed me, on his phone, an Email sent to all the members of the National Council to the effect that Ross Sinclair was no longer a member of that body.
Someone said they had heard a rumour about a sexual assault. I was quite surprised, not just at the idea of an actual sexual assault happening at the GA, but also at the fact that the Board would breach confidentiality so blatantly and precipitously. Ross had apparently been publicly accosted and escorted off the premises.
So what happened? And why has this situation continued to bedevil the Society?
Traditionally, at GAs, there are evening parties, sometimes in official or semi-official ‘hospitality suites’, or just in people’s GA accommodations. These are invariably accompanied by the consumption of alcohol. Ross Sinclair and Heather Laird were both happy to attend these parties.
At previous GAs at least two women had counseled Heather to be less aggressively flirtatious, to ‘tone it down’ in order to avoid stirring up potentially undesirable responses, but she assured them that she “could handle it”, which would be just fine if true.
At one of these parties Ross responded enthusiastically to what he apparently perceived as the initiation of mating ritual. He was trying very hard to convince her to have sex with him, and was frustrated that she had apparently reversed course. However he did not at any point touch her inappropriately, nor try to physically force her to accompany him. He was mouthy and pushy, but eventually desisted.
Later that evening, Heather visited Ross’s dormitory ‘pod’ (two bedrooms with a washroom and kitchenette) along with Robyn Foret, the other tenant in the ‘pod’, and Susan Yeo, all members of the Board at the time. Heather intercepted Ross on his way back from the washroom, and they spoke briefly. Apparently she forgave him, for they shared a hug before Ross toddled off back to bed.
Something happened between that evening and late morning the next day. Board member Charles Ennis (retired police officer experienced in prosecuting sex crimes) was going about saying “I got this, I got this”. Then-President Craig Levine was described as being “incandescent with rage” (hardly a fit state of mind for rational decision-making), when the Board met with the GA Committee to decide on immediately expelling Ross from the venue… without any investigation. That Craig was one of Heather’s usual followers at GAs probably did nothing to mollify his attitude.
Somewhat later, Heather wrote up an official complaint, but the Board decided not to follow our Policy Manual, which would have involved mediation and conciliation under section G23 (section G24 did not at that time exist).
Instead, after the GA, the Board created what they said was an ‘independent committee’ to look into the affair, but since it was headed up by Charles Ennis, it was hardly independent, and its task was not to investigate, but to castigate. While the Board offered Ross a few weeks to reply to their accusations, it was clear that nothing he could say was going to sway them.
The deliberations of that committee were not revealed to the defendant, it is not known what witnesses were consulted, though at least one, Susan Yeo, was not even called upon. The Board later claimed that a second complainant had come forth, but their name was not revealed and no second written complaint was ever sent to the defendant. This process is reminiscent of the infamous Star Chamber trials of the 17th and 18th centuries, with secret deliberations, anonymous accusers and witnesses, and no rights of due process afforded to the accused.
The Board then created a brand new policy, G24, effectively mirroring its actions. This is a pattern that will repeat itself over the next few years, with the Board ignoring the Policy Manual, doing something entirely different, and then rewriting the Manual to cover what deeds they’d committed.
Should Ross have been sanctioned? Probably yes. He was being a bit of an ass, and is old enough to know better. But expulsion from the Society as an initial action is way overboard. Our Policy manual has sanctions for various issues (eg- social media usage), but all start off with warnings and lesser chastisements before proceeding to drastic measures. Expulsion is the most extreme disciplinary step available, and should be a last resort, not a first step.
Addendum: Charles Ennis eventually communicated his justification for considering a ‘sexual assault’ to have taken place, based on section 265 and section 271 of the Criminal Code. Notable is the line from 265: “… causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose…”
Ross is supposed to have said something along the lines of showing Heather that he was better at sex than her boyfriend, whether she wanted him to do so or not. I have no idea (my being married now for more than four decades) whether this approach ever works for hooking up with women, but it’s certainly not an assault.
But did Ross have any practical ability to do so against her will, to “effect his purpose”, at our GA, surrounded by fellow RASC members, or in a shared residence pod? And if Heather really were convinced that there existed an actual threat, it seems unlikely that she would have gone later to his residence pod to talk to him.
So Grace Nelson was factually correct when she challenged Charles Ennis over the propriety of the ‘assault’ accusation.