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Queen's University
 

Dupuis

What is the appropriate discipline for professors who sexually harass, or have undisclosed dual relationships with, students ?

Facts:

In 1989, Linda Dupuis applied for a U.B.C. graduate program in zoology. A professor with whom she wished to study, encouraged her to obtain field experience. He set her up with a research position with the Canadian Wildlife Service studying birds in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Dale Seip, a wildlife biologist with the Ministry of forests and an adjunct professor at U.B.C., was one of her supervisors. On their six-hour drive from Vancouver to the Queen Charlotte Islands, Seip and Dupuis engaged in appropriate social conversation. They had to stay in a hotel one night in order to catch the ferry the next morning. Seip made a single room reservation at the hotel. Although there were two beds in the room, Seip invited Dupuis to sit on his bed to watch TV after she complained that she could not see the television without her contacts. He initiated sexual contact to which Dupuis responded in kind.  When he started to remove her clothing she stopped him, told him that she found him attractive but insisted that she did not make love to strangers. She fell asleep next to him on the bed. In the middle of the night, Seip made another advance and the couple made love.  The next day on the ferry, witnesses testified that they saw Dupuis flinch when Seip put his arm around her. Although they had sex several times in the Queen Charlotte Islands, their working relationship deteriorated quickly. Dupuis, who was often tearful, had several emotional outbursts in which she yelled at Seip. In the fall of 1990, she filed a complaint of sexual harassment with the B.C. Council of Human Rights, who rejected the respondent's claim that the relationship was consensual. The respondent was ordered to pay Dupuis $5000 as compensation for emotional suffering;  $14, 976 as compensation for lost wages. Seip was ordered to cease the contravention and [to] refrain from committing the same or a similar contravention. In addition, the council ordered the Ministry to search its personnel files and remove any evaluation of Dupuis done by Seip.  (Dupuis v. British Columbia (Ministry of Forests) (1993) B.C.C.H.R.D. No.43 (1993)).

Legal Questions

  1. Was the relationship consensual  at first ?
  2. Did the relationship become non-consensual ?
  3. Was this act of sexual harassment at the high end of the spectrum?

B.C. Council of Human Rights Ruling

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes

B.C. Council of Human Rights Reasoning

  1. Up until the point where Dupuis told her supervisor and future thesis director that she did not have sex with strangers, the Council found that their sexual relationship was consensual.  When she sat on his bed (when she could have simply put in her contacts), responded to his kisses and caresses and told him that she found him attractive, it would be reasonable for him to believe that she was consenting to his advances.
  2. However, Dupuis created a clear boundary when she stopped him from undressing her and told him that she did not want to make love to a stranger. The Council found that a reasonable person should have known, by this action and this statement, that Dupuis was uncomfortable with the idea of making love to him.  When he made another advance, in the middle of the night, he was committing an act of sexual harassment. In the days and weeks following the affair, Dupuis' behaviour was a clear and cogent sign that the relationship was coerced, not welcomed.
  3. This illegal act was at the "higher end of the spectrum in sexual harassment"  because of the factors used to assess damages:  1) the nature of the harassment [...]; 2)  the degree of aggressiveness and physical contact in the harassment; 3) [...] the time period of the harassment; 4) the frequency of the harassment; 5) the age of the victim; 6) the vulnerability of the victim; and 7) the psychological impact of the harassment upon the victim. ( (Dupuis v. British Columbia, paragraph 101)

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000