Violent attack at the University of Waterloo raises concerns over on-campus security

A building at the University of Waterloo with signage stating: University of Waterloo CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO
In the wake of the attacks, other institutions across Canada are raising concerns over on-campus security and pledging to re-assess their response systems.

On June 28, three people were taken to hospital and one person was taken into custody after stabbings inside a classroom teaching Philosophy 202 crosslisted with Gender and Social Justice 222 at the University of Waterloo. A professor and two students suffered non-life-threatening injuries during the attack and a former student at the university has been charged. At a press conference on June 29, Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) said the class was specifically targeted due to the subject matter being taught.

"We believe this was a targeted specific attack related to gender expression and gender identity," Chief Mark Crowell said.

The accused, 24-year-old Geovanny Villalba-Aleman, is charged with three counts of aggravated assault, four counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and mischief under $5,000.

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He was unable to attend his first courtroom appearance due to a video connection issue, but is next set to appear before the court in Kitchener, Ont. on July 11.

Security concerns over emergency response system

Immediately following the incident, there was some discussion online regarding the university’s security response to the attack. Emmett Macfarlene, a professor of Political Science at Waterloo, voiced his concerns on Twitter, stating that campus community members “received no messaging on the WatSAFE App.”

“No emails were sent from central admin,” Macfarlene said. “The dean’s office in the Faculty of Arts (Hagey Hall, where the attack occurred is a Faculty of Arts building) issued conflicting emails, first telling people to leave the building, then telling them to lockdown in their offices.”

On July 29, James W.E. Rush, Vice-President, Academic & Provost of the University of Waterloo released an official statement on the attack, calling it “shocking.” He also addressed security concerns, stating that he was “aware” that WatSAFE had not activated as quickly as expected.

“One of our priorities in assessing how we can better support you in future will be to look again at WatSAFE and our emergency notification systems to ensure we have processes that work as expected when we need them,” Rush said in the statement.

On-campus security a nationwide issue

In the wake of the attacks, other institutions across Canada are raising concerns over on-campus security and pledging to re-assess their response systems.

The University of Alberta’s Gateway reported that on June 28, the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta (AASUA) released a statement condemning the attack.

“There is no space on university campuses for hate,” the statement said. “It is paramount that students and all university staff are safe as they teach, research, and learn.”

Swaters also called for the U of A to re-evaluate its emergency response process in his statement, urging the university to be “pro-active.”

Meanwhile, Fanshawe’s Director of Environment, Health, Safety and Emergency Services Brenda Henry, called the incident at Waterloo “terrible.”

“Our thoughts are definitely with the students, faculty and families,” she said.

In the event of a similar incident at Fanshawe, she said the college has a desktop alert system that allows faculty to discreetly inform security of an emergency, while the Stay Safe App allows anyone to contact security in the event of an incident.

The Stay Safe App is also the college’s main method of communicating notices during an emergency situation.

We do have coordinated protocols to ensure that we can communicate out quickly in the event of an incident on campus,” Henry said. “And that’s why you’ll often hear us encouraging people to download that Fanshawe Stay Safe App because it is our primary message to be able to send instant notification with directions such as shelter in place in the event of violence on campus.”

According to Henry, Stay Safe’s coordinated notification system is usually tested in the fall, but she was not able to provide an exact date as to the last time it was tested.

“We typically try to do it early to mid fall when students are on campus, give everybody a chance to download the app and then we give it a test.” You can download the Stay Safe App for free on Android or Apple devices.