Earlier this year, Charles Barrons was charged with assault, breaking and entering, uttering threats, and sexual assault. One night at a bar in Halifax, Barrons spotted an ex-girlfriend with a man. Shortly after the two left, Barrons followed them to the woman's apartment, where he smashed in the door and forced his way into her bedroom. Barrons fought with the man, who eventually managed to escape and go look for help.
According to the ex-girlfriend, whose name is protected by a court ordered publication ban, Barrons shoved her out of the way and fought with the man that was with her. She said Barrons then attacked her on the bed, “hitting her and shoving his hands into her underwear and penetrating her.” (CBC NS, Feb 2017) Her companion testified that Barrons uttered death threats to him while they were fighting.
At his trial, Barrons plead guilty to and was convicted of assault and breaking and entering (the Crown dropped the sexual assault and uttering death threats charges). He received a three-year suspended sentence that includes completing community service, giving talks on violence against women, and abiding by a curfew. He will not spend a single night in jail.
The prosecution asked for a two-year prison term, followed by a two-year probation period, but Barrons' lawyer said, “any prison term would cost his client his future as he's enrolled to start law school in Ottawa beginning next month.” (CBC NS, Aug 2017)
And on September 6th, Barrons will do just that. He will begin studying at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. He will be my classmate.
It is no surprise that Barrons will not see the inside of a prison. The court has yet again decided that protecting a white man’s future takes precedence over the well-being and dignity of the victim in cases of gendered violence. The court has concerned itself with allowing Barrons to be free to pursue his dreams, while his ex-girlfriend may forever be too traumatized to pursue her own (as evidenced by the fact that she has had to drop out of university).
With perhaps some surprise, and a great deal of disappointment, the University of Ottawa has chosen to allow the admission of a violent man into our classrooms, with a complete disregard for the physical and emotional well-being of our student body. The school is prioritizing the opportunity for one man to enroll in a professional program over fostering a positive and safe learning environment for women.
It is a slap in the face to our female student body and our survivors of sexual and gender based violence. A man who was charged with sexual assault and convicted of assault will roam the halls, while women and survivors will be forced to quietly suffer. Yes, people will suffer. Even if Barrons never touches another woman again, some students will face detrimental effects because of his admission. Female students may feel uncomfortable sharing a classroom with him and not speak up or engage. Survivors may be triggered, not wanting to share the halls with him, and stop going to class. People may decide not to sign up for student groups of which Barrons is a part. His presence may very well pose a threat to survivors of such violence and interfere with their ability to fully engage with their education.
By allowing Barrons to enter our faculty, the University of Ottawa is choosing to foster the long term goals of a violent man, while potentially thwarting long term opportunities for other students. The school has promised this man a future, while possibly harming the future of other students.
I know some people will sympathize with, or seek to defend, Barrons. He is not a repeat offender, it was one night of bad decisions, and he will serve his time as given by the court. “Doesn’t he deserve to move on from this?” “Does he not have the right to go to school?”
In my opinion, Barrons deserves a lot of things. He deserves a second chance and a future. No one should have to lose the meaning in their life because of a crime - our justice system is predicated on rehabilitation and reintegration. But Barrons also deserves consequences for his actions.
Barrons did not “make a mistake.” Barrons made many horrible decisions. He chose to follow his ex-girlfriend home. He chose to bash in her door and force his way into the bedroom. He chose to assault her companion and allegedly to sexually assault her.
Barrons deserves a full sentence, not one mitigated because he has been admitted to a professional program and has a “glowing future.” He deserves to have his admission rescinded, because he should not enter a faculty if it jeopardizes the safety and well-being of the student body. He deserves to be denied entry to the legal profession, because law is regulated profession with ethical standards.
But this isn’t just about Barrons. This isn’t just about one court case, one man or one faculty.
This is an oppressive system at play. This is one more story of our institutions prioritizing the security, well-being and future of white men over everyone else. This is yet another example of a perpetrator getting a slap on the wrist for their horrific actions, while their victims continue to endure debilitating trauma. This is, for the millionth time, a discussion of preserving a white man’s future and a silence about women’s well-being. This is a university protecting a predator’s ability to go to school while abdicating its responsibility to provide their students with a proper learning environment.
This situation sends two messages to Canadians: 1) Our justice system cares more about protecting perpetrators’ futures than handing justice to victims. 2) Our universities will prioritize the education of a single man over the safety and well-being of hundreds of female students and all survivors of sexual and gender based violence.
The University of Ottawa Faculty of Law needs to rescind its acceptance. In section 4.6 of Policy 67b, it states that the university is “committed to a survivor-centred approach to addressing issues of sexual violence.” If the university is to honour this policy, it needs to do better. It has a responsibility to protect its students and foster a positive learning environment. It has the ability to unilaterally take away someone’s acceptance, and it should do just that.
Even in the notoriously misogynistic world of professional sports, the institution protected its players. In twenty-four hours, the CFL withdrew a contract offer for an incoming coach, Art Biles, who allowed sexual assault to consistently occur under his watch in his previous job. For a university that has proclaimed itself to be “emphatically a feminist law school,” it is being outdone by a football organization.
Whatever sympathy or defence one may want to extend to Charles Barrons, we cannot deny the message this situation is sending women and survivors. Our criminal justice system and our universities have consistently failed us when it comes to sexual and gender based violence. Charles Barrons is just another example of that.