Prison sentence would impact student’s future according to defense lawyer

A group of students from the University of Ottawa’s common law program have recently formed a coalition asking the university to rescind the acceptance of a student charged with sexual assault and breaking and entering.

Charles Barron, who completed his undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University, stood trial in February of this year for sexually assaulting his then girlfriend on Sept. 11, 2014. Barron was also charged with breaking and entering into his girlfriend’s apartment and making death threats to a man she was with at the bar.

Barron pleaded guilty to charges of breaking and entering and assault charges and received a three-year suspended sentence last month at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court of Justice of a nightly curfew and community service work. According to Barrons’ lawyer, “any prison term would cost (Barrons) his future as he’s enrolled to start law school in Ottawa (in September).” The charges of sexual assault and uttering death threats were dismissed.

In response to Barron’s admittance to the U of O, students in the Faculty of Law decided to send a clear message to the administration that they do not want Barrons on campus.

“This coalition, we are not trying to push an anti-in prison population agenda, we are not saying anyone with a criminal record should not be allowed to enter a professional program,” said Paula Ethans, a third-year student in the common law section. “What we are saying is that (in) this case you have a man with a violent criminal record, who has perpetuated gender violence and has not yet even served his sentence.”

According to Ethans, “the university has a responsibility to protect students and foster a positive learning environment. Further, the university has the ability to unilaterally take away someone’s acceptance.”

In response, the university told the students that the U of O has a “feminist” law school and listed courses on sexual violence. However, the students were not satisfied with what they were told.

“Frankly, we found the email was a complete abdication of responsibility. It didn’t even mention the issue that was at hand, let alone mention the name of Charles Barron,” said Ethans.

The coalition has since reached out to local media outlets “to show the university that not only do (they) disagree with (the decision), but (they) are not going to be quiet.”

However, despite their dissatisfaction, the outcome of Barron’s sentence came as no shock to the students.

“This case is the status quo … it is an upper middle-class white man who comes from an educated family being privileged in our criminal justice system,” said Ethan. “Its another example of a perpetrator getting a slap on the wrist for their horrific actions while the victims continue to deal with horrible trauma. It’s a discussion of a white man’s future, and no discussion about the present state of women and survivors.”

However, some professors from the U of O’s Faculty of Law believe that situations such as Barrons’ are more common for other reasons.

“Often rehabilitation of the offender is predominant when the offender is younger, has no past record, and prison could prevent him from pursuing a brighter future,” said Edward Ratushny, who teaches in the Faculty’s common law section. However, he added that “where the crime has involved bodily harm or other shocking conduct imprisonment might be necessary to denounce the crime and set an example for others.”

Larry Chartrand, also from the common law section, said that “this is not an unusual sentence.” Chartrands believes that enrolling in higher education “is a good sign of future success,” and of someone trying to contribute positively to society.

However, according to common law professor Elizabeth Sheehy, “the admission of such applicants, particularly in the context of the intense competition for law school places, raises significant public policy issues.” Sheehy also said it would be unclear whether Barrons would be called to the bar given his record, despite attending law school.

On the topic of policy, Ethans believes that the U of O should live up to its own, specifically regarding sexual violence. Section 4.6 of policy 67 states that “the University is committed to a survivor-centred approach to addressing issues of sexual violence.”

“By prioritizing the ability of one man to go to university over the well-being and safety of students, especially survivors of gender violence and women, is not a survivor-centered approach,” said Ethans. “It becomes far too subjective when we allow people to decide what is a good future and who has a good future.”

“We want people to know where they can go and who they can talk to and receive accessible and meaningful help” Ethans said.

Ethans and the coalition also sent a letter to the interim dean and assistant dean of the Faculty of Law voicing their concerns on Wednesday, Aug 30., which has also been made available on Facebook.

The university said they can not speak publicly on the case and could not give any comments.

“Now we are going to be sharing the halls with a known convicted criminal who has perpetuated gender violence, and that’s going to cause a lot of undue stress to a good number of our students,” said Ethans.

—With files from Eric Davidson.