U of O president Jacques Frémont, seen in January 2020. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum
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Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce was carded, handcuffed and detained by campus security for over two hours last June

During a public forum promoting inclusion and anti-racism on campus on Thursday, University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont called the June 2019 carding incident of Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, a Black U of O student, “a good crisis,” drawing backlash from the school community.

“I don’t know who said never waste a good incident or a good crisis. Jamal, it was a good crisis. It is still a good crisis,” said Frémont.

Last June, Koulmiye-Boyce was carded, handcuffed and detained by campus security for over two hours. An independent investigation later found the incident to be an act of racial discrimination.

Koulmiye-Boyce, who is a conflict studies and human rights student and vice-president of academic affairs for the program’s student association, said that he was “extremely disappointed” with Frémont’s comments.

Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, seen in October 2019. Photo: Matt Gergeyk/The Fulcrum

“What has happened to me was not a good crisis —  it was a horrible experience,” said Koulmiye-Boyce. 

He added the incident has impacted the way that he interacts with security and authority figures, highlighting how he still sees the officers who arrested him walking around campus.

“To call it a good incident takes away what happened to me, and also takes the onus away that you knew exactly what was happening,” he said. “(The university) gave individuals power and authority to handcuff me, put them on too tight, call me names … without any de-escalation training? Crazy.”

He added that the university has not been reactive or proactive in their approach to combating anti-Black racism on campus. Rather, he said that it’s been students who are the ones who are bringing forth change for a discriminatory free campus. 

“Students have been pushing and fighting. That (president’s advisory comittee for an anti-racist and inclusive campus) —  the minutes were only opened up because students forced it to do that; it was closed,” he said. 

Koulmiye-Boyce also disputed Frémont’s comments about achieving change, who had previously said that it’s the majority who determines who should be successful in terms of fighting discrimination.

“To fight racial profiling —  to fight racial discrimination —  will come through a requirement from the majority,” said Frémont.

However, Koulmiye-Boyce said that it’s not up to the masses to change the situation.

“You are in power. You have just been re-elected as the head of the representative of the (Board of Governors)” said Koulmiye-Boyce. “It is up to you to start, affect and ensure that change goes forward, no matter what the majority of thinks. You plan to represent a majority, or you represent all students.”

Jason Seguya, the student life commissioner at the University of Ottawa Students’ Union, said that although he was caught off guard by Frémont’s comments, he wasn’t surprised that he made them.

“In my mind, I was literally thinking ‘the audacity’. The reality of it is that this is the nature of the conversations we’ve been having with them,” said Seguya, who also sits on the president’s anti-discrimination advisory committee alongside equity commissioner Judy El-Mohtadi.

The committee will host a public meeting on March 19, and Seguya said that this incident has added more work to the group’s agenda.

“This (comment) specifically —  it wrapped it up. It was a summary of where we are right now. The work we’ve done —  there’s a lot more that needs to be done, but also the approach needs to change because we’re trying to work with (the committee) and this is (their) response.”

Frémont’s comments, Seguya said, shows that there’s still a lot of learning that needs to be done. 

“When we were leaving (the forum), we were told by some of his other staff that he was told to speak from the heart. If this was him speaking from the heart, it really does show the reality of the sentiment that we’ve been feeling when we enter these spaces,” he said.

Seguya added that the comments weren’t just a slap in the face to Koulmiye-Boyce, but to the community as a whole.

“The amount of time that it took just to get an apology from the university —  within the same year to be told that what happened to (Koulmiye-Boyce) was a good thing —  it’s a slap in the face,” he said.

He also stressed how harmful Frémont’s comments are to Black community members at the U of O, highlighting the toll that it takes on students when opening up such conversations.

“You’ll share your stories, share your trauma, and be told, ‘thank you for that, it was good that that happened to you so we can have these discussions.’ That’s disgusting,” he said. “This is not anyone speaking. This is someone who’s supposed to be representing us as the president of our school. And he’s saying that this incident was good? Nah.”

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