CALGARY — The Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association is criticizing what it calls the de-facto expulsion of a University of Calgary student convicted of a sexual offence.
"It flies in the face of the University of Calgary's discipline policies," the association has written in an open letter to the university's board of governors.
"It is an act of cowardice and a denial of fundamental due process."
Connor Neurauter pleaded guilty to sexual interference with a minor in Kamloops, B.C., in November and was sentenced earlier this month to 90 days in jail.
The case stoked outrage because the judge allowed him to delay all but one day of his sentence to May 4 — once Neurauter had completed his semester at the university.
The university has said it does not have the grounds to outright expel the 21-year-old student because the offence took place before he was a student. But provost Dru Marshall said Neurauter has been advised not to return this semester and added that he would be escorted off campus by security if he tried.
Marshall said earlier this month that safety concerns factored into the decision, in part because of unspecified online threats against Neurauter.
The lawyers' group says if there were concerns around Neurauter's safety, the university should have worked with the Calgary Police Service to ensure it.
"Vague 'security concerns' should not be used as a means of intimidating unpopular students into leaving the university," the association writes in the letter.
"Sadly, it appears the University of Calgary has succumbed to the pressures of the online lynch mob."
Kamloops This Week reported from court that Neurauter, a former junior hockey goaltender, obtained nude photos from a 13-year-old girl and threatened to show them to her family. The court heard Neurauter was 18 when he and the girl had a brief relationship.
The trial lawyers' association said it does not defend Neurauter's criminal acts, but questioned whether he should be branded an offender forever or be given the opportunity to reintegrate into society.
"Allowing Mr. Neurauter to continue his education does not hurt society — it helps it," the letter says.
"Of all places, an institution of higher learning should understand the redemptive power of education."
President Daniel Chivers said in an interview that the lawyers' association has had no contact with Neurauter's family, but felt the need to speak out because the case raises broader issues.
"Our membership was, as this unfolded, extremely interested in the case and disgusted by how it transpired," he said Monday.
"We feel this sets a tremendously bad precedent. Institutes of higher learning are inclusive places of learning and they should be fighting for Connor as opposed to giving him a de-facto expulsion."
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press