Proposed governmental changes aim to make sexual violence reporting at Ontario universities more survivor-centric

C/O Aditya Joshi

cw: sexual violence

The provincial government of Ontario is proposing changes to sexual violence and harassment policies at post-secondary institutions.

These changes are being made to Ontario regulation 131/16. This was implemented in January 2017 to establish a standard of sexual violence policies in colleges and universities.

The changes, proposed in January 2021, will ensure that students reporting sexual violence or harassment are not asked about their past sexual history. Furthermore, individuals reporting will not face consequences for violating the institution’s alcohol and drug policy.

The proposed amended regulation would require post-secondary institutions to update their sexual violence policies. There would be no additional costs or burden on the institution or students.

The changes, proposed in January 2021, will ensure that students reporting sexual violence or harassment are not asked about their past sexual history. Furthermore, individuals reporting will not face consequences for violating the institution’s alcohol and drug policy. 

These changes aim to reduce the fear and stigma that survivors may face when reporting gender-based violence. The proposed changes come from policy recommendations made by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance in Spring 2020.

The McMaster Students Union is a member of OUSA and contributed to the policy recommendations. The paper was co-authored by former MSU Vice-President (Education) Shemar Hackett and AVP Provincial and Federal Affairs Angel Huang. Many of the recommendations also mirrored similar suggestions made by the MSU Sexual Violence and Response policy.

The paper outlined the current challenges with gender-based and sexual violence prevention and response, including disclosure and reporting.

The disclosure and reporting section included an explanation of how institutional hierarchies make it more difficult for students to report sexual violence and harassment. The paper went on to explain the existing insufficient education and training for campus police, staff, faculty and student instructors.

OUSA explained that there is a lack of knowledge on how to respond to gender-based violence and support survivors in a trauma-informed and survivor-centric way.

Among other suggested resolutions, OUSA recommended strengthening legislative and regulatory frameworks such as Ontario regulation 131/16.

“We know that gender-based violence and sexual violence is not just a problem at institutions but a systemic problem across society and it certainly exists [on] campuses. At McMaster, but also across the provinces, we’ve heard from students and advocates and experts that the current policies are not survivor-centric and they’re not friendly toward people to come forward [to report],” explained MSU VP Education Ryan Tse.

“At McMaster, but also across the provinces, we’ve heard from students and advocates and experts that the current policies are not survivor-centric and they’re not friendly toward people to come forward [to report].”

MSU VP Education Ryan Tse

On March 16, McMaster University staff member, Christopher McAllister was arrested and charged with sexual assault. McAllister had ties to the department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, which underwent a climate review in July 2020 for systemic and cultural issues linked to sexual violence and harassment.

Other allegations in the PNB department, such as the June 2020 charge on Scott Waters for two counts of sexual assault, are still being investigated by McMaster as of February 2021.

“I think this [proposed change] is important because hopefully, it will help to build a little more trust between the community and the institution but, more importantly, just make the policy safer and provide more accountability,” said Tse.

The proposed changes by the Ontario government will make the province one of the only in Canada to legally prevent survivors from having to answer irrelevant questions and be prosecuted by substance use policies.

“It’s really important that students continue to speak out and speak up for these changes, through OUSA but through other means as well,” said Tse. 

Tse explained that in the future, OUSA looks forward to continuing their advocacy for the other policy recommendations they made to ensure policies are more survivor-centric, evidence-based and informed from the lived experiences of survivors. 

“This is a really good first step and it’s nice to hear that the government is listening to the voices of students . . . It’s really important that students continue to speak out and speak up for these changes, through OUSA but through other means as well,” said Tse. 

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