I recently read an article by Former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, where she discusses critical principles of what makes a justice system fair. While Memorial University’s internal processes are not a legal system, these principles that Bensouda discusses could have important implications for it as well, especially as the university makes changes to its Student Code of Conduct and the Office of the Chief Risk Officer takes what I see as an increasingly prosecutorial role.

In her article, Bensouda states that central to the ‘rule of law’ concept is the principle that the law should be “applied equally and fairly in a manner that no actor — state or non-state — is above the law.” At Memorial University, it appears that former President Vianne Timmons was above the law. She further states, “Any institution saddled with upholding the rule of law must be independent, impartial and transparent.” At MUN, investigations are conducted, findings made, and sanctions imposed by the university’s own employees. Also, MUN is moving toward becoming more secretive and has proposed adding a section to the Student Code of Conduct titled “Confidentiality and Privacy,” where those involved in the process are strictly prohibited from speaking publicly and could face sanctions if they do. Furthermore, regarding the importance of impartiality, Bensouda states that it “guarantees the credibility of both the process and the institution.” Moreover, she states, “Political will or the lack of it could greatly impact the efficacy of the rule of law.” She said it is important not to allow justice to be “sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.”

Members of the Memorial University community had a multitude of issues with the Timmons administration. On April 6th, 2023, President Timmons was removed from her position as president due to a major scandal. The university denied me a process to resolve the issues I had with Timmons, which eventually led me to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador. The university sought to improve its internal processes to be free from biases and conflicts of interest. I suggest creating an independent office at an arms-length of the administration to process complaints.

On March 15th, 2022, I filed a formal complaint with the Memorial University Office of Student Support against then-President Vianne Timmons for what I believed was inappropriate behaviour. Memorial University refused to accept my complaint and did not investigate the matter. Since all those who made this decision answered to Timmons, it may have been an attempt to protect her. 

I took issue with comments made by Timmons on September 16th, 2021, to CBC that my posters calling for her resignation violated the Respectful Workplace Policy. The university’s president should not be the one to determine whether something violates this policy, especially if it involves them. Also, I am not an employee of the university. The statement by Timmons served to inappropriately discredit me in the eyes of the students and the entire university community and province.

I also took issue with a statement Timmons sent to the media and to those who emailed her expressing concern over her decision to ban a student for protesting, that freedom of expression does not protect behaviour that becomes “intimidating and harassing.” Yet another attempt to discredit me.

On March 25th, 2022, MUN’s Student Support Team Lead, Roxanne Rideout-Scott, responded that the matter was reviewed by her office and the Office of General Counsel. She said that the complaint did not provide a “sufficient basis” to meet the definition under the complaint policy. She stated, “Complaints that do not meet the definition of inappropriate, unfair or objectionable complaints cannot move forward.”

Regarding my first allegation, Rideout-Scott stated, “Dr. Timmons did not suggest that the Respectful Workplace Policy applied to you. She mentioned that the university was a respectful workplace, and that means for everyone. She did not suggest that you specifically were in violation of the policy.” Regarding my second allegation, she stated, “Dr. Timmons had nothing to do with providing a statement to the media. That is not her role…”

See my complaint and MUN’s response below:

March 15th, 2022 complaint

MUN’s March 25th, 2022 response

Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.


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