Colleges drag feet on sex code

May 31, 1996

A Canadian psychology professor charged with sexual assault has been suspended for a year without pay from his university.

Richard Freeman, whose alleged crimes of sexual assault and gross indecency date back to 1981 and 1983, when he was counselling teenage girls at his private eating-disorder clinic, will be tried next January. He will plead not guilty, his lawyer said. The College of Psychologists of British Colombia has set a hearing of its own.

Although still innocent under the law and free to practise privately, Dr Freeman was found to have violated his university's harassment policy, according to an internal investigative committee at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University. The committee came under criticism by local media for taking three years from the initial complaints before suspending the Can$73,000-a-year (Pounds 35,800) professor.

"Three years for resolution of such a matter is a long time, particularly when the respondent continues to work in the very field where the alleged misconduct took place," read a Vancouver Sun editorial. One reason for the length of the tribunal is the complicated nature of the sexual harassment policy, says Simon Fraser spokesman Ken Mennell.

"It is delicate when you need both to protect the rights of the accused and deal with the matter justly," Mr Mennell said. "I think we have done a reasonable job."

Ninety-seven per cent of Simon Fraser's harassment cases have been dealt with by an informal process, according to its officer's last report in 1994, which logged 266 sexual and non-sexual complaints in 19 months. In the Freeman case, certain details surfaced only in the local media.

The name of the alleged perpetrator, the charges and the severity of the case were left out of the university's newspaper, the SFU News. Some feminists have called for a more independent sexual harassment office. About three-quarters of universities have harassment offices on campus.

Susan Russell, a spokeswoman for the 10,000-member Canadian Federation of University Women, said that some universities were trying to protect the status quo.

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