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Arrest on campus leads to allegation of excessive force

A report of an alleged physical assault by campus Police has recently made waves in online groups.

A report of an alleged physical assault by University of Guelph Campus Community Police that left a woman in the emergency room has recently made waves in local community groups.

The woman is a volunteer at the Guelph Center for Organic Urban Farming in the university’s arboretum where she was accosted by campus police officers and arrested on charges of trespassing on May 3, according to an email shared with GuelphWire last week.

The email – co-written by former GCOUF farm manager, Martha Scroggins, and GCOUF volunteer and philosophy professor, Dr. Karen Houle – is addressed to the senior administration of the university.

Houle and Scroggins say that a farm volunteer named Joan [named changed for privacy reasons] was visiting the farm Sunday evening when she was confronted by campus police. Her arm was allegedly fractured by an officer as she was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed.

“Joan was at the farm (where she actively volunteers) taking pictures of scarecrows and quickly found herself with a fractured arm, ripped pants, and charges for [break and enter],” said community member Dustin Brown in a post to a popular Guelph Facebook group.

Houle and Scroggins’ email describes how Joan spent the night in the hospital and was taken to The Guelph Police station in the morning to be charged.

“While in custody, she spoke to the hotline duty counsel who advised her to obey the conditions of her release and attend her court date (tentatively set for August 2020),” Houle and Scroggins said in their email.

“She was a “prisoner” for about 3-4 hours, had to sign the paperwork in order to get her belongings back and leave. That was about 4pm on Monday. (Her bike which is her only means of transportation, was taken by campus police and she hasn’t seen it since),” they said.

Scroggins ran the farm for 11 years and found out in January that her last day was on April 30. Houle has been coordinating volunteers at the farm for the past year and has recently coordinated a seed planting effort to help bolster the inventory of the Guelph Student Foodbank.

When the province lifted the ban on community gardens, volunteers started assisting the farm again.

“On or about April 27th, a faculty member from Plant Ag arrived and announced that he was “now in charge,” Houle told GuelphWire in an email.

“Me and the volunteers worked on the Farm for the following week, but it got extremely unpleasant and by Friday, it was fairly obvious that none of us were going to keep working there. On Saturday I got an email […] telling me I was no longer the volunteer coordinator,” she said.

U of G’s Director of Integrated Communications, Lori Bona Hunt, told GuelphWire in a statement that the institution was aware of the situation.

“We take such matters seriously,” Hunt said. “University officials will be reviewing the situation according to the policies and processes we have in place to address such issues.”

However, due to the charges, the university would not comment further.

The Guelph Center for Organic Urban Farming. Photo from GCOUF website

“As this is an ongoing investigation and charges are pending against the complainant, the University will not be releasing further information at this time,” Hunt added.

When asked about the privacy of the farm and if it is possible for someone to trespass, Houle said that, while the farm does have a building, it is kept locked. She added that most of the farm is open.

“[The farm] would be impossible to control since it is not a locked space: it’s part of the Arboretum, open on all sides. People walk through and around the grounds all the time,” Houle said. “Joan was in that public space. She was neither in a building nor in a fenced-in area.”

Campus Community Police declined to comment.

GuelphWire has reached out to Guelph Police for records on the exact wording of the charges.

EDIT: An earlier version of the article indicated that charges were related to “trespassing.” It was clarified that the charges were for break and enter.

EDIT 2: Joan declined to give a statement to GuelphWire. Our information is from the letter/email posted to social media.

(Reporting by Jack Fisher; Editing by Eli Ridder; Jack Fisher)