Connor Neurauter has not been expelled from the University of Calgary. But the 21-year-old student is not welcome on campus either – and will be escorted off the grounds by security guards if he happens to show up for classes in the months ahead.
University officials said on Friday they are asking that the man convicted of sexual interference in British Columbia not return to the campus for the safety of other students – and his own, as there have been a number of threats made against him on social media in recent days. They said Mr. Neurauter was on campus Monday but has not been back since.
This is the uneasy compromise officials have come up with as the Neurauter case exploded in Calgary this week, placing the university in the middle of a tense debate over both campus safety and whether the former junior-hockey player was given special treatment by a B.C. judge. After being sentenced early this month to three months in jail for sexual interference involving a 13-year-old in Kamloops, the judge decided to allow the science student to serve an intermittent sentence – with most of the jail time to be served starting in May – so he could finish the semester in Alberta.
Dru Marshall, the provost and academic vice-president at the University of Calgary, said expulsion would be permanent, but the “advice” that Mr. Neurauter stay away from campus until the end of the school term is not – and officials are still reassessing the situation. Dr. Marshall acknowledged that the “complicated and difficult” case has disturbed and frightened some students who have experienced sexual violence. An online petition asking that Mr. Neurauter be expelled had garnered almost 60,000 signatures from across the country by Friday and continues unabated.
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” said Alex Hay, an executive member of the university’s Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club, of the school’s decision not to expel Mr. Neurauter.
In November, Mr. Neurauter pleaded guilty in a Kamloops court to one count of sexual interference with a minor. Another charge of possession of child pornography was later dropped. Local newspaper Kamloops This Week reported from the trial that Mr. Neurauter, a goaltender, obtained nude photos from the girl and threatened to show them to her family. The court heard he was 18 when he and the girl had a brief relationship, the paper reported.
By taking a plea bargain, Mr. Neurauter gave up his opportunity to tell his side of the story in court, said his mother, Susan Neurauter. His choice was meant to minimize the impact on the victim.
“We love and support our son. Since he was arrested he has done his best to be respectful of the legal system and the other individuals involved in this matter,” she wrote in an e-mail to news outlets on Friday. “Most of us remember being 18 and the challenges that were involved. This has been a nightmare for our family, one that none of us, but particularly our children, are equipped to handle.”
But the victim’s mother – who cannot be identified because of a publication ban meant to protect the victim – has told media outlets that Mr. Neurauter was given special treatment by the courts throughout the trial.
The author of the online petition, Kaitlyn Casswell, does not attend the university and works in Calgary’s restaurant industry. But when she read about the story this week, she couldn’t stay quiet.
“Often times, I have felt really helpless surrounding issues like this and have felt there wasn’t anything I could do to enact real change,” she said.
Ms. Casswell says that, a decade ago, she was assaulted by an intoxicated man while walking home in Lake Louise, Alta. When she worked as a server, she was groped by customers.
She said the Neurauter case is a reminder of others in which athletes or students convicted of sex crimes have received reduced or deferred sentences.
In Newfoundland last month, Lancelot Saunders, 20, was found guilty of attacking his girlfriend with a coat hanger but was granted an absolute discharge. The man’s lawyer had said a criminal record would “hamper” his client’s plans for the future.
And Queen’s University student and hockey player Chance Macdonald, who pleaded guilty last April to assaulting a teenage girl, was not sentenced until September so he could finish a summer internship at accounting firm Deloitte.
Many University of Calgary students commenting on social media are concerned that a person convicted of sexual interference is attending their school. But the real anger for Ms. Casswell and others stems from the judge’s decision to allow Mr. Neurauter to defer his jail time for the sake of his studies.
“I just see these young men who are white, have a certain amount of privilege – they’re going to university – be treated differently than a lot of people in the court system,” Ms. Casswell said. “I just hate seeing the narrative that they matter more than their victims.”
According to Kamloops This Week, Mr. Neurauter had no previous criminal record.
Dale Fedorchuk, a criminal lawyer with Guardian Law in Calgary, noted the sentence is in fact far more than the 90 days in jail. “The fact that he has to be on the sex offenders registry for 10 years is going to significantly hamper his ability to gain employment. It’s also a criminal record for which you no longer get a pardon. He may have this criminal offence on his record, if it’s an adult record, for the rest of his life.”
He added that sentence delays for school or work are not common practice. However, sentences of 90 days or less can be served intermittently.
When it comes to the university’s handling of the case, Ms. Hay and others believe officials have given short shrift to the school’s new sexual-violence policy, arguing it does not say a student had to be enrolled when they committed a sex crime to be punished. However, Dr. Marshall says the policy does not apply to activity that occurred before the person was a member of the campus community, so she maintains there are no grounds to expel Mr. Neurauter.
“A student is defined as a person taking a course on our campus,” she said on Friday. “Mr. Neurauter committed a crime when he was not a student – it was prior to becoming a student at the University of Calgary.”
With files from the Canadian Press