University of Toronto staff ignored warnings in student death. Hold them accountable.
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On Tues, Nov 14, 2017, faculty of the graduate division of the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto, St George campus, received warning that an accomplished 37 year old international grad student in their department, who will be identified as Lisa (not her real name), with a known history of chronic acute illness and hospitalizations, was ill and in need of help.
Lisa was working on her second PhD, had ten years university teaching experience, a long list of publications to her name, was widely traveled, and was loved and cherished by her family abroad, and her partner in the USA with whom she was on a waiting list for campus family housing.
The warning on Nov 14 is known to have been received by at least two, and probably three, faculty and administrators of the Centre. All told, possibly six faculty and staff of the university, including crisis office staffers, would have been aware of what was happening from multiple sources beginning Nov 13, if not earlier.
After more than a year of warnings and multiple emergencies requiring medical intervention, not a single staffer or faculty of the university who was aware of this situation can honestly say they didn't understand what was happening, or the dangers of it.
Additionally, five roommates, all students of the university and also familiar with Lisa's condition, were aware of her illness by Nov 12, which they knew worsened on the evening of Nov 13. On Nov 14, instead of getting help, some of them complained to the landlord, who was also aware of the situation, that Lisa had kept them awake. A major Toronto hospital is one block from the residence, and visible from the front yard.
Lisa was a wonderful, giving, and selfless person, who believed the world could be made better through small acts of kindness for people and animals everywhere she went. If any of these 12 individuals who knew that Lisa was ill had needed help themselves, Lisa would have been the first to stop everything and get it for them. She wouldn't have spent the afternoon debating the legal expediency of it, waited for someone else to do it, or complained to the landlord.
No action was taken on the warning about Lisa's illness. Two days later, her partner who had driven two days from the USA to get help for her, and her family abroad, were being informed by the Toronto police of her death. The authorities have not been forthcoming with information, but based on what is known, her death is believed to have occurred on the evening on Nov 14, the day the warning was given.
Lisa's death was entirely avoidable. Had she received medical treatment, she would have made a full recovery within days. Her loss, and the circumstances under which it occurred, has been a nightmare for those who cared about her.
Given the failure of the University to respond to this tragedy in an open and honest manner, and seven months on, this petition calls on the faculty and staff involved to immediately resign their positions, or failing this, for the University of Toronto to issue formal reprimands and end their employment.
These individuals include three faculty and administrators of the graduate division of the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, whose names will be known, including her academic advisor, in addition to the following individuals: a university "wellness office" / CAMH staffer who was involved with Lisa from September 2017, a crisis office staffer assigned to Lisa from Sept 2016, her university medical doctor, and a university psychiatrist to whom she was assigned.
While a public petition is not the place to go into lengthy details, anyone familiar with them can only conclude that each of these individuals displayed considerable incompetence and negligence, together with unconscionable lapses of judgement, that directly contributed to the circumstances in which Lisa died. These individuals were quite simply not qualified to do their jobs, or to work with students with Lisa's needs.
Following a meeting with one of these individuals in Sept 2017, Lisa reported that she was told to end her relationship with her partner (with whom she tended to be safe and well), marry someone else, have children, and that would solve her problems. After her partner was wedged out of the scene at the end of the month, the individual who made the remark completely failed in his professional responsibilities. According to Lisa herself, she wouldn't even have been in Toronto in 2017 had it not been for the sole insistence of her academic advisor, and the acquiescence of a senior administrator. Neither of these individuals can honestly say they didn't understand the risks, or that they didn't understand the warning on Nov 14. This same advisor signed off on Lisa having three times the work load, by her own estimate (likely more), than had been agreed to in a meeting in Nov 2016.
In addition to these individuals are the five student roommates of Lisa, who were familiar with her condition, knew she was ill, and didn't get help for her. There are lesser offenses than negligence in the death of a student that are punishable by expulsion.
Following Lisa's death, individuals known to be assigned by the university to liaise with the police refused to cooperate with individuals assisting the family to have her repatriated, and even denied knowledge of her death. Due to these obstructions, Lisa was not returned home until two months after her death, causing exceptional distress for her devout family, who had to finance the repatriation themselves due the university's refusal to make available information for the insurance that should have covered the cost.
This petition also calls on the University of Toronto to educate faculty and staff in their moral and legal obligations to assist students whom they know to be in need of help. When presented with numerous warnings for more than a year about Lisa's condition, or approached by Lisa herself, staffers and faculty cited in this petition are known to have responded variously by laughter in at least two instances, and more often, by refusal to discuss what was happening or to get involved. They didn't want to know, and when it was impossible not to know, they pretended not to know. On Nov 14, 2017, they literally turned their backs and acted out of legal expediency for themselves and the university, rather than doing what was right for a student in need of help.
To the University of Toronto, we ask, what good are your faculty's Oxbridge and Ivy League degrees if you're not worth dog sh-t as people, or if your medical staffers are incompetent? Each of you connected with this tragedy are a disgrace to your profession, and none of you should be allowed anywhere near students.
To our knowledge, these individuals all remain in positions where their incompetence, selfishness, and complete lack of conscience continues to put at risk the lives of University of Toronto students, and the most vulnerable among them. Despite their knowledge of Lisa's condition, they wanted her there for her scholarship, which mattered more to them than her life, and they completely failed to ensure she had the protections and help she needed. Despite being a PhD student with a prestigious scholarship, known serious health issues, and a guest in a country she had little to no familiarity with, Lisa was forced to live off campus following the rejection of four applications for campus housing, left to call her her own ambulance, and literally left for dead when she couldn't. This is morally criminal. No apology is sufficient.
There needs to be a discussion - about why five University of Toronto staff and faculty are in academia working with students, about why two doctors are practicing medicine, and about why five students roommates and a landlord, together with the others, think that it's acceptable to let someone lay in a bed and die, one block from a major hospital. There needs to be a discussion about why the authorities and the media think it's acceptable to look the other way.
In addition, there must be a public inquiry into student mortality at the University of Toronto, both on and off campus.
Lisa was not someone who sought attention, nor would she want it now, but for the sake of her memory, for everyone who has asked about her death, and for anyone who has a loved one at the University of Toronto - for the sake of justice, however inadequate to the loss - this is a story that must be told.
As an international university with large numbers of students from Europe, the USA, South America, and China, families who have loved ones at the University of Toronto need to understand the risks if their daughter, son, or spouse has an emergency and needs help - not only of negligence by a university with no public accountability, but also of a broken Toronto healthcare system that turns ill patients out onto the street in middle of the night with little or no treatment, another hardship that Lisa repeatedly faced there. As non-citizens, these international students and their families will be even more vulnerable, as Lisa's death has sadly proven. Everyone will be protected, except the victim.
All students of the University of Toronto, their families and loved ones, and the survivors of those like Lisa whose lives have been lost, deserve better. Our stories will not be silenced. When a student dies, the individuals responsible, whether through ignorance, incompetence, or negligence, and the institutions that harbor them, must be held to account. The death of a student must not be swept under the rug as if it never happened.
Additional details on these matters will be provided upon request to persons and families with a bona fide interest: HawksBL@gmail.com
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