Six sex assaults at the University of British Columbia have resulted in an unprecedented police presence on the campus where fear has spread among students, staff and the community, says the facility’s president.
Stephen Toope told a news conference that unlike many other inner-city universities, UBC is situated on a large amount of open space, requiring a different type of response to give people a sense of security.
“This is one of the safest campuses in North America. There is not normally a climate of fear or of insecurity on the campus,” he said.
RCMP’s major crimes section has taken over the investigation and say one man is believed to be responsible for three attacks this month and similar incidents in April, May and September.
All the women were attacked while walking alone late at night on the campus where the Safewalk program’s hours have been extended by two hours, to 4 a.m., so students can phone a number to have two people walk them to their residence.
An outside security company has been hired to bolster the university’s own resources as volunteers have stepped in to patrol the campus, Toope said, adding millions of dollars have been committed to upgrade lighting in the last two years and that major corridors have been relit.
“At the same time the RCMP has increased dramatically their patrols on campus and we’re working very much in collaboration. There is far more police presence on campus than ever in the history of the campus.”
“We are putting the resources that are necessary to keep the campus as safe as it possibly (can be). Frankly, we are not counting our pennies at this moment.”
Toope said the issue of security cameras has been raised but privacy concerns mean he’s reluctant to make a commitment about such surveillance on campus.
“I think that’s a robust discussion that needs to happen,” he said. “We have put in place a campus security working group that’s going to be reporting within a month. It will have some suggestions, perhaps around some targeted responses that might include cameras. But I want to make sure the campus thinks about that carefully.”
Hundreds of people were expected to attend a rally at the university to protest the assaults on the campus in Vancouver’s Point Grey area.
RCMP say the suspect has been described as a six-foot Caucasian man in his mid-20s to early 30s and that he has attacked the victims from behind. In one case this month, a woman reported he ripped her nylons but fled when she screamed.
Residences have held emergency meetings to alert students not to walk alone in the dark and the university is running a series of ads on 100 buses that come to the campus warning female students not to walk alone at night.
But some women have suggested they should not be blamed for inviting attacks if they choose to walk on campus on their own in the dark.
Toope made his comments about the assaults just weeks after scandal erupted over a frosh-week rape chant involving the Sauder School of Business, which was defaced with graffiti which denounced the so-called rape culture at the university.