Original Published 22:32 Apr 27, 2022

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Brandon University plans to conduct a “deep examination” of its athletics department and compensate a group of female students after two investigations confirmed their allegations of misconduct against a soccer coach.

A handful of women, all in their early 20s, have come forward with concerns about Jesse Roziere’s inappropriate behaviour — including partying with players, suggestive messages and sexual advances, which led them to quit the Bobcats team, since late 2020.

On Wednesday, university administration released a public apology about the institutional mishandling of the situation and some next steps.

“(BU) is committed to a safe and inclusive campus. Everyone has the right to an existence free of sexual assault, violence, and harassment. We have failed to live up to these ideals,” it states.

“To our student athletes: we are sorry, unreservedly, for what you endured while participating in our athletics program and since. We are sorry that harm was caused to you. We are also sorry for any of our public statements that have in any way called your integrity into question. To that end, we say unequivocally that we believe our athletes and we will aim to do better.”

Roziere, 30, began training male BU athletes in 2016, before pivoting to coaching women in 2019-20.

The prominent trainer in Brandon remained on the job for months as head coach of the women’s team — despite an internal school investigation in early 2021 concluding he had acted inappropriately with female players.

It was only after the Free Press contacted his employer about the review he was put on paid leave in September. At the time, BU suggested new information had been brought to light, requiring an external investigator to revisit concerns.

A 52-page report on the external findings, which was leaked to the Free Press this week, concluded Roziere overstepped boundaries, personally and sexually harassed young women, and blackmailed players into keeping quiet about his actions.

The damning report was finalized Dec. 23. The complainants were sent it in mid-February, and have since been calling on administrators to take action to address the severe findings.

In a recent email sent to five former players — including the four official complainants in the latest investigation — a senior BU administrator apologized for “how frustratingly slow” the process has been for them and outlined the post-secondary institute’s plans.

“While we cannot comment on personnel matters specifically, we want you to know that we will be taking further action shortly with regard to the respondent in this case, and are actively investigating the conduct of others whose actions have contributed to the harm you have been caused,” wrote Kofi Campbell, vice-president (academic).

In the memo, Campbell said BU was aiming to issue an apology by April 27. The institution had repeatedly delayed the scheduled date of regrets until Wednesday.

In a public apology shared after 5:30 p.m., the university acknowledged it has received an external report into incidents of harassment and sexual violence, and regrets both the length of time it has taken to complete the related process and the fact women involved were asked to relive their experiences.

One former player, who is a recent BU graduate, said her alma mater is starting to take accountability, but words only go so far.

“I wouldn’t say I’m feeling optimistic,” she said Wednesday. “We need to see action. We need to see plans.”

Leading up to the apology, in Campbell’s recent email to players, the senior administrator indicated BU is putting together a panel to examine its athletics program “with an aim to determining best practices and appropriate structures to ensure the safety and well-being of our student athletes.”

One of the goals of the review is to ensure there are “clear reporting paths” that do not rely on athletic department staff, so allegations of any kind are reported appropriately and addressed immediately, he said.

The first athlete in this case made an initial complaint to BU’s athletic director on Nov. 17, 2020. The student was not immediately connected with the school’s sexual violence education and prevention co-ordinator.

Emails show the senior employee told the student he appreciated her feedback and would share her concerns with the human resources department.

An HR representative reached out to the student in the new year, in an email in which the employee expressed concern about how long it took for the allegations to come across her desk.

A significant chunk of human rights lawyer Pamela Clarke’s remarks on the initial BU investigation in her new report were redacted in a copy sent to complainants.

In Campbell’s recent correspondence to players, he said the school is creating a mechanism that will allow complainants to note specific financial losses suffered as a result of this experience to pinpoint “appropriate compensation.”

One of the women gave up a scholarship when she left the team.

The complainants have reported being subject to gossip in soccer circles, losing friends over the matter, and experiencing a deterioration of their mental well-being throughout the drawn-out process.

“I’m not proud to be a part of this school anymore,” said one.

The initial complainant echoed those comments. The final-year student said she is not attending her graduation ceremony in the spring because she is ashamed her degree is from BU after everything that has transpired throughout her undergraduate career.

Stacey Hannem, a researcher interested in sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement, said BU needs to “step up,” following months of silence.

“Without laying all the cards on the table and really unpacking and being transparent about what went wrong, it will never be able to address this systemic problem,” said the sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Hannem noted a 2016 scandal prompted BU to implement a sexualized violence policy, which staff did not use when probing complaints against Roziere.

Earlier this week, Roziere’s lawyer said his client denies all wrongdoing.

This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba