How to Write a Complaint

Step 1: Considering a Complaint

We know that making the decision to file a Complaint may not have been easy.  It is normal to feel nervous and/or frightened about submitting a Complaint to the Non-Academic Misconduct (NAM) system.  This is especially true if you are coming forward about someone you know or when you have experienced direct harm.  Below are some things to keep in mind when looking to submit a Complaint. Remember that there are a number of resources on campus that can help to provide support for students impacted by a NAM incident. 

What is a Complaint?

A Complaint is a written version of what you are telling the University (through a Case Manager/Investigator) about what happened.  By writing a Complaint, you are indicating that you are willing to be contacted by a Case Manager/Investigator who will ask you questions to better understand what happened.

Is there a time limit to submit a Complaint?

There is no set time limit to submit a Complaint.  Generally, it is best to do it as soon as you are able.

Safety Concerns

If you have immediate safety concerns related to what happened, you should contact either Queen’s Campus Security at 613-533-6111 or Kingston Police at 911.

If you have more general concerns for your safety because you are considering submitting a Complaint, speak first to a campus resource (e.g. Campus Security & Emergency Services, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, Human Rights Advisory Services, Personal Counsellor, etc.). Even if what you have to say is difficult, or you feel embarrassed or scared, it is always best to share as much information as you can when you talk to someone about your concerns.

Creating an outline of key events before trying to draft your Complaint may also be helpful.  Think about the important pieces of information that you want to communicate. 

Sometimes it is difficult to determine what is relevant or important to include at the beginning stages.  If you were unable to recall or don’t include some details in your initial Complaint, write them down so that you can share them with the Case Manager/Investigator later, if needed.

When writing your Complaint, try to stay away from making assumptions or speculating.  Whenever possible, consult other sources (e.g. calendar, text messages, social media, etc.) to help you to include specific times, dates, and details. Supporting the facts and your statement with corroborating pieces of information in a manner that is readable for a Case Manager/Investigator will help them understand what happened.

In general, it is best for the Case Manager/Investigator to collect statements directly from other witnesses.  Please do not do this yourself.  If you have concerns about who may be contacted or how that will happen, discuss your concerns with the Case Manager/Investigator.  Speaking to other witnesses has the potential to compromise the integrity of the investigation. 

You should provide the names and contact information for any other individuals who may have information about the incident in your Complaint. The Case Manager/Investigator will determine who to contact as part of the investigation.

Remember that Respondents have the right to review the allegations being made in order to be able to properly respond.  This is a key element of procedural fairness.  For questions or concerns about procedural fairness, talk to the Case Manager/Investigator or contact the University Ombudsperson at ombuds@queensu.ca.

As trauma-informed support staff, we recognize that considering submitting a Complaint can be difficult after a distressing or traumatic experience.  Seeking guidance from personal supports and resources on campus is always recommended.  Support Persons can help you to process your experience and organize the details that you do recall so you can include them in your Complaint.

Support

If you are having difficulty knowing what information to include or exclude about an incident, and there are no immediate safety concerns to consider, it can help to take a few days to reflect.  Students are strongly encouraged to consult with a Reporting Unit or email supportservices@queensu.ca prior to submitting a report directly.  Additionally, the NAM Intake Office (NAMIO) can answer with general questions about the NAM process.

Step 2: Writing the Incident Description

Format

Write your Complaint in a way that feels natural for you.  It can be in full sentences or in point form/bullet format.  Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation.  Your Complaint should make sense to someone who wasn’t present at the time of the incident.  Sometimes writing in third person can help with this to avoid confusion.

Speaking to Facts

It is important to structure the majority of your Complaint on the facts and your direct observations or experience.  We understand that your memory of events may not be perfect.  That is okay!  Do your best.  Gaps in memory are common, particularly when events have been unexpected and/or upsetting. 

To the best of your ability, walk through what occurred and what you experienced in a chronological order, describing the sequence of events in the order that they happened.  Sometimes this can be difficult to do for particularly distressing events.  Try writing down what you remember most about the situation, read it through, and fill in any missing pieces as best you can recall.  Focus on relaying the most important parts about what happened. 

How much information is required?

Your Complaint must include enough specific information to show that the policy has been violated.  This threshold must be met for the report to be referred to one of the NAM Units to be investigated.

Do your best to answer the following questions:

  • What happened? Describe what you directly observed (i.e. saw, heard). Include specific quotes or exact statements in quotations marks, even if using profane language or epithets.

  • Who was involved? If you do not know exactly who was involved, further investigation may be required before a Complaint can be accepted.  Provide as much detail as you can like how you know them, what contact you have had, or where they are known to be.  For example, do they live on your Residence floor or are they in the same student club?

  • When did it happen? Provide the date(s) and time(s).  If you can’t recall specifics, can you check other sources to confirm (e.g. calendar, text messages, social media, etc.)? Did the incident occur during a specific event or activity?

  • Where did it occur? Include the building name and room number, if applicable. For incidents that took place off-campus or online, be as specific as possible by including descriptive detail such as the street address or social media platform where the incident occurred.

  • How serious were the physical impacts of the incident? For example, did anyone sustain injuries, was there any property damage, or did the incident require emergency response? Speaking to Impacts provides additional guidance.

  • Who else was there? List all individuals who may have more information about what happened.

  • What actions have already been taken? This may include actions taken by yourself or others.

Details and Quotes

Using direct quotes can be helpful when describing your experience.  It is okay to use simple language, profanity, epithets, or other words that were used during the incident when it is a direct quote of what a person said or did.  In some cases, exact terms or phrases are critical to illustrate the basis for a Complaint. 

Use adjectives sparingly.  It is better to focus on describing exactly what you heard or saw.  Details that may not seem relevant could be helpful so include as much information as you can. 

Things to Avoid

Avoid using jargon or short forms. Similarly, avoid using general terms like I, him, her, or they. This can make it difficult to follow your synopsis. Instead, use full names when you first mention an individual, followed by first name, last name, or initials thereafter. Nicknames may be helpful in a narrative if referencing a particular individual, however, they should always be introduced in connection with the person’s full name, when possible.

Supplementary Documentation

Provide any additional documentation that you may have, such as video, pictures, screenshots, texts, and/or social media posts. Alternatively, make a note that pictures and/or video exist and suggest how they can be obtained if not from yourself.  A Case Manager/Investigator will follow up to collect additional documentation.

Documentation should show the date/timestamp and not be altered any way prior to submission. Describe how the listed documentation relates to the Complaint. Retain the originals until the matter is resolved or you are directed otherwise.

Speaking to Impacts

Earlier, we asked you to include details about the immediate, physical impacts of the incident.  There is also an opportunity for you to comment on the emotional, psychological, and other impacts that the incident may have had on you. You don’t have to do this and should only include personal information that you are comfortable sharing. For example, you may wish to reference seeking medical treatment or a negative impact on your academic success.  You do not need to go into great depth of what this involved or share overly personal details. 

Remember, the Respondent will get a summary or copy of the Complaint (depending on the level of disclosure required).  If you wish to express the impact the incident had, but you don’t want to do it in the Complaint itself, you can share this with your Case Manager later or document it for yourself in case you wish to reference it in the future.

Step 3: Finalizing the Complaint

Review

Once you have prepared an initial draft, consider asking a Support Person or Advisor to read it over for you.  That person can give you some feedback and help to identify any places where a bit more information may be needed.

Share Concerns

If you have a concern for the safety of a witness (e.g. high risk of retaliation or further harm) and wish to suggest that their name is redacted in any information provided to the Respondent (depending on the level of disclosure required), speak with the Case Manager/Investigator.

Submit

When you are ready to proceed with submitting your Complaint, contact a Reporting Unit or email the NAM Incident Report Form to centralnam.office@queensu.ca.