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Women who accused UPEI president of sexual harassment freed from non-disclosure deals

August 10, 2023
The Canadian Press

Photo: Tinnakorn/Adobe Stock

Two women who accused the former president of the University of Prince Edward Island of sexual harassment have been released from non-disclosure agreements after more than a decade.

UPEI’s board of governors issued a statement Thursday apologizing to Wendy Carroll and Erin Casey, who took their complaints against ex-president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz to the province’s human rights commission.

“The university will not prevent them from having their voices heard and from sharing their stories, should they so choose,” Shannon MacDonald, chair of the UPEI board of governors, said in the statement, published on the university’s website.

UPEI has permanently released Carroll and Casey from non-disclosure agreements and deeply regrets the impact the university’s response to their complaints has had on their personal and professional lives, MacDonald said.


Misconduct allegations against the former president sparked a third-party review that concluded in June that the school had a toxic environment of bullying, harassment and racism.

Carroll and Casey issued a joint statement Thursday, saying that after 11 years of silence they feel heard.

“We’ve reclaimed our voices,” the joint statement says. “We’re optimistic about using them to continue this conversation.”

The women thanked MacDonald for her leadership following the review, which was conducted by Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson. MacDonald replaced Pat Sinnott, who stepped down after the release of the law firm’s report, saying new leadership was needed to address the university’s problems.

The 112-page report concludes that the school failed to address allegations of sexual and gender-based violence, with some instances of harassment persisting for years despite continued complaints. It documents cases of misogynistic comments from graduate students and supervisors, as well as “lewd comments and suggestions” from certain professors directed at students and co-workers.

The behaviour “carried on for years without being addressed in any meaningful way, despite multiple complaints,” the report says.

Rubin Thomlinson, however, says in the report it was “unable to obtain a clear picture” of some allegations, in part due to the non-disclosure agreements that were imposed after two complaints were made against Abd-El-Aziz dating back to 2013. The report says the university didn’t elaborate on the nature of the complaints beyond saying they involved “inappropriate comments” from the former president.

Abd-El-Aziz’s term was extended in 2015, after the allegations against him were made, and then again in 2018, the report says; he resigned in 2021.

“We also wished to examine why the former president’s term was extended twice notwithstanding these allegations,” the report says.

“Unfortunately, we were met by obstacles that we could not overcome, so that we cannot, at this time, provide the university with a clear picture of the former president’s behaviour or its response to it.”

Meanwhile, unions representing UPEI staff requested on Thursday an independent arbitrator to review the university’s redactions of the report. They said an independent review would be “an important first step” toward accountability and transparency.

The Island’s sole university receives approximately $50 million annually in operational funding from the provincial government.

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