After months of planning, McMaster has released its first draft of its new policy against sexual assault.

The policy comes from the Liberal government’s “It’s Never Okay” policy, which was passed in March 2015. The draft was first made public on Oct. 28.

The policy updated sexual assault and harassment policies in Ontario, and specifically outlined that university campuses implement a policy to handle sexual assault cases. The policy stemmed from previous controversies on university campuses such as the University of Western Ontario and Dalhousie University, which made headlines and sparked a national dialogue concerning sexual assault.

The university secretariat is the executive in charge of creating the policy, with consultations from various groups on campus such as the Presidents’ Advisory Committee on Creating an Inclusive Community, the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office and the McMaster students’ union’s Women and Gender Equity Network.

McMaster does not currently have an official policy to deal with cases of sexual assault, but instead utilized the Discrimination, Harassment & Sexual Harassment: Prevention and Response policy to handle such cases.

Additionally, WGEN and McMaster’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Meaghan Ross, offer support to survivors as well as directing them to services elsewhere such as the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton Area).

As mandated by the Liberal government, the policy draft has been accessible to the public since Oct. 28, and a consultation was held on Nov. 8 to discuss the nuances of the draft.

The current draft includes a procedural guideline detailing the process of reporting a complaint and data gathering, the role of various levels of university administration, the investigation guidelines, and differentiations in different situations.

The policy gives students, staff and faculty the ability to file a report of sexual assault confidentially and it is the role of an assessment team to determine whether the complaint is within the jurisdiction of the policy and whether they will pursue an investigation.

If an investigation occurs, the accused will be informed to ensure procedural fairness. If it is established that a sexual assault occurred, the sanctions range from receiving a No Contact order to expulsion for students, suspension or dismissal for staff, and recommendation for suspension or removal for faculty.

The policy also allows for survivors to make rearrangements or modifications to their study or employment arrangements, such as permission to extend a program or taking a leave of absence.

The new policy differs from the harassment policy as it explicitly outlines the process to investigate sexual assault and focuses its attention on supporting survivors. For example, Section IV allows for survivors to be accompanied by a support person or legal counsel throughout any stage of the procedures.

In addition, the new policy accounts for the complexity of the university institution by specifying the course of action when the accused is in different positions of power. This is outlined Section VI, and ensures that different contexts are considered.

The final version of the policy is due in Jan. 2017, and all members of the McMaster community are asked to voice their concerns or additions. The complete draft may be found on the McMaster Daily News website.

Survivors of sexual assault may contact WGEN by visiting MUSC room 204 or by calling SACHA at (905)525-4573. 

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