From rodent feces in food lockers to houseless persons sleeping in the lobby, students living at Leblanc have had quite a residence experience
On the afternoon of Feb. 3, I was editing a piece on the University of Ottawa’s decision to stick to the double vaccination mandate implemented over the summer. This decision led to much criticism from the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), who has called on the University to mandate booster shots as students return to campus.
While scrolling through the UOSU’s declarations on its Instagram page, I noticed a student repeatedly calling on the Union in the comments to help students residing in the University’s LeBlanc residence.
Noting the seriousness of the detailed allegations, I decided to reach out to the commenter. After a brief conversation, I decided it would be best if I went to the residence and investigated these claims myself.
The next afternoon, armed with a contributor to take pictures, I walked the 500 or so metres between the Fulcrum’s office and the residence in question. Upon our arrival, we were able to easily enter the residence’s main lobby without any hindrances, as the two doors we used had holes where locks should have been.
The third door we encountered was, however, locked, and could only be opened with an electronic key fob. So, we decided to wait for a student to open it for us. After about a minute, a student wearing earbuds walked out and let us in. Within three minutes of arriving at the residence, we were in the residence’s main hallway.
There, we met three students whose doors were open. They greeted us, asked who we were, and then proceeded to share troublesome stories about their experiences in residence. In exchange, we honoured their request to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.
The students began by telling us that when they arrived at LeBlanc for the Fall semester, no one was there to greet them or show them around the residence. They also shared that they did not have a Community Advisor (CA) living on their floor until the start of the Winter semester.
“No one greeted us like we [greeted you] today. We thought we were at the wrong building,” said one of the students, who studies psychology at the U of O.
On the night they moved in, one of the students had to call Protection Services due to the residence’s main door (which opens towards Copernicus Street) being left unlocked and opened.
“We had university students who lived in other residences, just kind of doing a little tour trying to make friends. They just walked right in.”
This would also be the case for wandering law students from the neighbouring Fauteux Hall making their way to LeBlanc. This security breach led to the University locking the door between Fauteux and LeBlanc on both sides, thus barring access to the crosswalk for LeBlanc residents.
“A lot of people were sitting in our common rooms that did not live in this building. Instead of making it so that LeBlanc students could use the tunnels they pay for, they just locked them for everyone. So now you have to walk across campus in negative 20 degree weather to get to the dining hall, which sucks.”
Instead of being greeted by University staff members, the students were greeted by a number of boxes left in the hallways.
“When we moved in, there were two boxes right outside my door, one full of doorknobs and the other one of used batteries — they were there for over a month,” said one of the students, who is in the health science program at the U of O.
There were also a number of broken amenities in the residence, including the elevator, which did not work on the day we visited. The building also boasts only one working microwave, and features a broken laundry machine.
“It seemed like we moved into a building that wasn’t ready to be moved into,” added the student.
Jackie and the dumpster divers
With their room facing the parking lot behind the LeBlanc residence, two of the students we interviewed had a line of dumpsters right below their room’s window.
“As you can imagine they didn’t get emptied often … and it smelled. So as a result, we had dumpster divers. And we just had a guy pee outside our window.”
The students said that the dumpsters were beside their window for about a month. After multiple emails and a phone call to the University, they were removed.
Remember how my companion and I had managed to walk into the residence without any hindrance?
Well, we weren’t the only ones.
According to the initial trio, a houseless woman named Jackie would often come and sit at the table in the lobby. The first time they noticed her, they called Protection Services, who promptly had her removed.
But this didn’t stop her from coming back. The students we encountered said that they were aware of her coming back at least five or six times within the period of about a month in the fall.
“We would get the same spiel from [Protection Services] over and over again, ‘call in case she comes, don’t interact with her.’ Which is fine, that makes sense, but she shouldn’t be able to get into the building in the first place,” said the psychology student.
One of the students we spoke to, a nursing student, went to speak with Jackie the third time they saw her. According to the student, Jackie shared some disturbing information, including that she was “running from the law.” The students also said she would make up lies to stay in the lobby — on one occasion, she pretended to be the mother of a resident.
This all came to a head when the trio decided to call security on Jackie and she attempted to force herself into the residence while screaming at them.
“She heard us on the phone with security outside of the door, and then she came to the door, tried to open it, and started yelling at us. We were like, ‘you’re trespassing. You’re not allowed to be here,’ ” said the health science student.
This problem was only exacerbated on Jan. 30, when the trio say a member of the “Freedom Convoy” not only broke into the residence, but into the psychology student’s bedroom.
“His name was François, he meandered his way over to my room, probably took like a step in. And he wasn’t being aggressive in any way. He was super calm about it. And he just goes, ‘Hi, what’s going on?’ ”
After a short conversation, François realized the residents knew he wasn’t supposed to be in the residence. Despite some slight physical resistance, a friend of the trio was able to escort him out of the building. The trio said he may have been intoxicated, so they called Protection Services, who arrived a few minutes after he had left.
In an email to the Fulcrum, Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn, the University’s manager of media relations, said the U of O was aware of the incident but that the person was not affiliated with the “Freedom Convoy.”
“The University can confirm that one person was inadvertently let into the residence by a student but that they were not affiliated with the ongoing protests in Ottawa.”
Mailloux-Pulkinghorn said that in response to concerns, the University sent communications to students in residence and heightened its security around campus this weekend.
“Communications were sent to all students in residence since the start of the term urging them to not let strangers enter the buildings behind them, tape locks or prop doors open, and to report unauthorized entries to Protection Services.”
“A reminder of this was sent to all residents on Friday, Feb. 4. As well, in an abundance of caution, the University has locked some entrances to residence buildings and stationed staff at entrances this [past] weekend.”
The students also said that on Jan. 29, the “Freedom Convoy” clogged up the LeBlanc parking lot, occupying students’ parking spots. The trio called Protection Services, then left to go on a shopping trip to Costco to get away from the protesters — they said no one had moved the protesters’ vehicles when they came back.
Poor living conditions
Another concern raised by the students was the condition of the residence as a whole.
Following our chat, they gave us a detailed tour of the building, starting with their rooms. One of the students showed us her curtains, which were covered with maroon coloured stains.
“My curtains are brown. They’re covered in stains. And not from me — they were like this when I got here,” said the psychology student.
In addition to the curtains, suspended ceiling tiles all over the residence had brown stains from water damage.
Another problem with the rooms, specifically on the first floor, is the heating, especially close to the window.
“My Brita filter freezes in my room. If you leave it [by the] window it freezes completely.”
The students also showed us some of the showers in the building, which were in poor condition.
“[In] the women’s second-floor shower, the drain is clogged. Pools of water go up to your ankles… and the water is trapped in between the actual lining of the tub and the tub itself. So you can feel the floor shifting.”
“Shower shoes are a must,” joked the students.
We were then taken to the basement and showed the lockers close to the kitchen where students are supposed to keep their food and belongings. Wearing my leather gloves, I opened a random locker that was empty except for rodent feces.
The kitchen was also not the cleanest, with the fans showing their age — opened in 1965, LeBlanc is one of the oldest residences on campus.
To top it off, when we returned to the main floor, the students showed us an electric panel which, according to them, had exposed wires when they moved in.
When asked about the poor living conditions, the University said that processes are in place to investigate and take care of students’ concerns.
“The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is our top priority. This includes offering comfortable and healthy living conditions to students in residence. Processes are in place for residents to report issues, which are then investigated and addressed appropriately,” wrote Mailloux-Pulkinghorn in her email.
What have the students done?
One of the most pressing questions I had for the students was, except for calling security, what are the processes that you have undertaken to change the situation?
The residents say they sent a number of emails to different departments and groups on campus, who keep redirecting them.
“I wrote a long-winded email just explaining people broke into the lobby, now someone’s broken into my room, I fear, and you know, something really bad’s about to happen,” said the psychology student.
“[I was told to] talk to security, security forwarded me to the residence team, who didn’t answer my emails. So then I sent it to the Student Union, I sent it out to [Human Resources], I sent it out to [a] dean.”
The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) responded, recommending they reach out to the Student Rights Center. They were also told that Tim Gulliver, the Union’s president, shared the concern with the office of the associate vice president, student affairs as a matter of utmost priority.
Gulliver, in an email to the Fulcrum, said he is aware of the concerns raised by students regarding the LeBlanc residence.
“We communicated the concerns raised last weekend to the University immediately and obtained a reply. At the present time, I believe we are waiting to hear back from the residents. The students were also referred to the UOSU’s Students’ Rights Centre.”
During our tour, the students said they had yet to reach out to the centre, however, they were to meet with a member of the Residents Association of the University of Ottawa (RAUO).
On Sunday night, they said in a message that they had met with the RAUO member and that it had gone well. They say the University would be implementing more security and taking a look at all the repairs needed in the building.
My final question to the group was, why haven’t you tried to move, given all the incidents and the poor living conditions?
“It honestly builds character. We’ve always said that I’m still fine living here because I honestly love the people I’ve met — if it wasn’t for the people I met, I would have been gone on the third weekend of the year,” they said, finishing each other’s words.