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Western University reels as student dies from assault; social media sparks investigation into alleged sexual violence – The Globe and Mail



In recent years, efforts to eliminate campus sexual violence have been cast in a spotlight.

Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press

The University of Western Ontario is reeling after a first-year student died of his injuries following an early-morning assault and police opened a separate investigation into social-media reports of young women being drugged and subject to sexual violence at a university residence.

Gabriel Neil, 18, died in hospital on Sunday after an assault early Saturday near campus in London, Ont. A 21-year-old male has been charged with manslaughter. In an e-mail Monday, a London Police spokesperson said that assault was not believed to be connected to the allegations of sexual violence at a campus residence this weekend.

Allegations of sexual violence at a Friday night gathering at Medway-Sydenham Hall, a campus student residence, circulated on TikTok and Twitter in recent days. Western administrators and police in London said they had not received any reports of such incidents and appealed for people to come forward with information.

London police said they are aware of information circulating on social media, and that based on the seriousness of the allegations, they had opened an investigation. Since students returned to campus last week, Western said it has received four complaints of sexual violence. None are believed to be connected, nor are they tied to the allegations that emanated this weekend from Medway-Sydenham Hall.

In recent years, efforts to eliminate campus sexual violence have been cast in a spotlight as research has shown that women of university age are at high risk of assault, particularly in the first weeks after arriving on campus.

Chris Alleyne, interim associate vice-president for student experience at Western, said the university is “troubled and worried” by this weekend’s reports of alleged assaults.

“We’re working really hard to clarify and confirm the information. But so far, we’ve received very little information related to these reports. So we’re asking our students and campus community to come forward with any details,” Mr. Alleyne said in an interview, adding that the university was committed to working with police.

The allegations first came to the attention of the university officials via rumours picked up by campus residence staff on Saturday, Mr. Alleyne said. That same evening, an employee sent an e-mail to students in residence asking people to come forward, offering assistance and wanting to ensure that anyone who had been hurt could seek help.

Those efforts continued Monday, but the university still had not received any response to its request for information on the alleged incidents. The university said it had stepped up security in residences and had counsellors, including experts in gender-based violence, on site to assist students.

Mr. Alleyne said in a statement that Western had taken swift action in response to the four known complaints of sexual violence from last week, “including facilitating arrest and removing students from residence while investigations continue.”

News of the investigations has underscored the importance of consent work and education before students get to college or university campuses, says Farrah Khan, co-director of Courage to Act, a national project to address and prevent gender-based violence at postsecondary institutions in Canada.

Over the last several years, Ms. Khan says there has been a sea-change in terms of colleges and universities acknowledging the need to address sexual violence on their campuses. But she says those efforts – whether it’s dedicated offices or mandatory training – remain unequal across the country.

“Universities and colleges can do better and should do better. But we’re also setting students up to fail by not giving them comprehensive sexual health, relationship and consent education throughout grade school and high school,” she said.

Especially given the risk of violence that students face during the first few weeks of life at a postsecondary institution, Ms. Khan stresses that the work must begin much earlier.

“What are we doing to educate them so they’re ready?” she said.

A StatsCan report found that in 2019 slightly more than one in 10 women in a Canadian postsecondary setting reported being assaulted in a single year. More than 70 per cent witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, the report said.

Mr. Alleyne said that sexual violence will never be tolerated at Western.

He said that as part of the university’s commitment to a safe campus, it conducted sexual violence education and prevention programming with incoming first-year students last week, including programming on consent, healthy relationships and addressing rape culture. Student residence staff and other student leaders are also trained on the university’s sexual and gender-based violence policy and in how to refer students to appropriate services should a complaint arise.

Lauryn Bikos, a third-year student at Western and an orientation leader, said on Twitter that the events of the weekend had a terrible impact on the campus community. Many other students echoed her views.

“I walked students home Friday night to Med Syd. I thought I was taking them to safety. I don’t even want to think of the number of students who no longer feel safe in their rooms, and started this new chapter of their lives with fear and trauma,” Ms. Bikos said.

Other students on social media mentioned feeling unsafe on campus.

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Media availability following Council meeting –



Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Keith Egli, Chair, Ottawa Board of Health, Steve Kanellakos, City Manager, Anthony Di Monte, General Manager, Emergency and Protective Services, and Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, will respond to media questions after today’s Council Meeting.

Residents will be able to watch the media availability on the City’s YouTube channel, or RogersTV Cable 22.

When: Wednesday, September 22

Time: 15 minutes after Council adjourns

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Canada denies Chinese state media report that sailor was stopped in Northwest Passage – Nunatsiaq News



Zhai Mo is attempting to circumnavigate Arctic Ocean

A view from the sailboat of Zhai Mo, who is trying to sail around the Arctic. Transport Canada recently warned the Chinese sailor that foreign boats are prohibited from travelling through the Northwest Passage for pleasure or recreational purposes, due to COVID-19 concerns. (Screenshot courtesy of China Global Television Network)


David Lochead

Chinese state media is reporting the Canadian government stopped a Chinese sailor attempting to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean last week, but Transport Canada says no such thing happened.

“Captain Zhai Mo has not entered Canadian Arctic waters,” Transport Canada stated in an email to Nunatsiaq News on Sept. 17.

Chinese media claim Mo was stopped at Lancaster Sound, in the Northwest Passage.

Mo, along with two crew members, is sailing a 25-metre boat that is fully solar powered and sponsored by Chinese telecom corporation China Mobile.

He is well known in China for his quest to sail non-stop around the Arctic Ocean and his travels are being closely covered by Chinese state media. Mo claims his journey, which he is video-blogging, will be the first of its kind.

Transport Canada told Nunatsiaq News it emailed Mo to relay that foreign boats going through the country’s waters for recreation or pleasure are temporarily prohibited due to COVID-19.

Transport Canada added it had seen reports that Mo now plans to avoid Canadian waters and the department “is monitoring the situation.”

According to Chinese state media, Mo is scheduled to return to China by the end of the year.

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Gabby Petito’s Disappearance And Clues Debated On Social Media – Forbes



On Monday, a body thought to be that of missing Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was discovered, while authorities are still searching for her fiancé Brian Laundrie. The 22-year-old was reported missing on Sept. 11 after she failed to return from a months-long cross-country trip with Laundrie, who as of Tuesday afternoon – when he was named a person of interest – remains missing.

The case has remained in the spotlight on cable news over the past week while there have been nightly segments on the national evening news. “Gabby Petito” has also been trending on social media this week, but some users have even questioned why her disappearance has garnered so much media scrutiny while other cases fail to gain any attention.

Missing White Woman Syndrome

While Petito’s disappearance and possible death should not be taken lightly, many on the social platforms have noted that the media attention is an example of what has been labeled “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” The term is used by social scientists and media commentators to refer to the alleged disproportionate media coverage, especially on TV, of a missing person case that involves a young, white, upper-middle-class woman compared to the relative lack attention towards missing women who are not white and women of lower social classes, as well as missing men or boys.

Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) of the Huffington Post tweeted, “In the same area that Gabby Petito disappeared, 710 indigenous people— mostly girls—disappeared between the years of 2011 and 2020 but their stories didn’t lead news cycles.” via @MollyJongFast”

Some on social media have also used Gabby Petito’s disappearance to highlight other missing person’s cases. The grass roots organization Occupy Democrats (@OccupyDemocrats) posted, “BREAKING NEWS: While the media obsesses over the Gabby Petito story, Jelani Day, a Black aspiring doctor and Illinois medical school student is also missing, but his disappearance is barely being covered. His abandoned car was found in the woods. Please RT to make this go viral.”

“I’m very sad and angry. Gabby could have been saved. Some are highlighting the media responses. It doesn’t diminish Gabby’s case. It’s an attempt to make sure we search for them all. Still, so many women missing. Use the same outrage to find them all,” added social media user @tbkeith.

Even with those calls to find every missing woman, this case certainly highlights yet another divide in our nation, and it further puts social media in the spotlight for its ability to get people arguing about nearly everything.

“Social media continues to have that potential to be polarizing,” said Saif Shahin, assistant professor in the school of communication at the American University.

“We see this all the time in the political space between liberals and conservatives, but it is evident on social media in different contexts such as this one,” Shahin added.

It also seems that this case has taken social media by storm unlike others, and that could potentially help break the case.

“When you combine that with America’s fascination with true crime – Serial Podcast, Don’t F**k With Cats and the latest Kristin Smart case – this is a perfect storm for the story to go viral,” said Matt Zuvella, VP of marketing at talent management services company FamePick.

“In the case of Gabby, her social media profiles might actually help solve the case, mainly because her fans became accustomed to her style of posting,” noted Zuvella. “So when there is something off or different, her fans immediately took notice and started asking questions.”

Spread Of Misinformation During Investigations

At issue too is where there is a potential for the spread of misinformation that could impact cases such as this one. How much harm it can do is a matter of debate, but past cases have shown that wild theories can stir up individuals and even put some people in harm’s way.

“Over the last few years, we have seen the dark side of social media with the spread of Covid-19 misinformation and political/election agendas,” added Zuvella. “However, in Gabby’s case we can see social media’s positive impact since her fans and fellow influencers jumped to her ‘aide’ and tried to help in any way they could.”

However, in past cases, social media has caused more harm than good, and amateur sleuths ‘debating’ potential suspects during an ongoing investigation could present serious problems.

“This happened after the Boston bombing,” explained Shahin. “There was the sharing of information on Reddit and Twitter, and other platforms. Users on social media were actively trying to figure out who were the Boston bombers.”

And they did so without the knowledge the police and FBI had access to, and as Shahin added, that was a problem as there was a zealous audience seeking information and sharing details without context. Many didn’t have investigative training either.

“They were pointing fingers everywhere,” said Shahin. “That certainly targeted people of color, and some on social media pointed fingers at a young man from India who had gone missing.”

Sunil Tripathi was wrongly accused of being a Boston Bombing suspect on Reddit, as he had been missing for a month prior to the April 15, 2013 bombing. His family had even turned to social media to assist in their search for Tripathi. That included setting up a Facebook page and sharing a video on YouTube.

Instead of helping find Tripathi, the information posted online resulted in his being misidentified as a suspect by users on social media. Thousands of individuals actually jumped on the bandwagon, and his name and details were even shared on Reddit. A BuzzFeed reporter then named the young man, who was born to Indian immigrants, as being a primary suspect.

“That led to threats against his family, while some mainstream media outlets even picked up on the story,” said Shahin. “The family was already in a lot of pain and it exacerbated it.”

In the end, Tripathi had nothing to do with the bombing, and he had killed himself by drowning.

“There is such a potential for the spread of bad information, and that could even distract the police during an investigation,” warned Shahin. “This isn’t new, but the presence of social media brings in such new dynamics.”

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