Editor's Note: The provincial government is stepping up its efforts to combat sexual violence and harassment in postsecondary settings.
For the most recent St. Clair report about such incidents - under the previous provincial policy - http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/bofg-receives-report-sexual-violence-college
And for an update about the college's new investigatory practices under the policy, see http://stclair-src.org/news/awareness/sexual-misconduct-policy-revised-include-independent-investigation
Here is a Ministry of Colleges and Universities media release, issued on January 27, about revisions to the province-wide policy:
The Ontario Government is proposing changes to sexual violence and harassment policies at postsecondary institutions to ensure that students alleging an instance of sexual violence and harassment are not faced with irrelevant questions about their sexual history, and do not face repercussions for violating an institution's drug and alcohol policy.
The proposed changes are part of the government's efforts to increase campus safety, and to reduce the fear and stigma for students who are making an allegation of sexual violence or harassment.
"We know that many instances of sexual violence and harassment on and around campuses go unreported, and often this is because students are afraid of reprisal or concerned that they will not be taken seriously," said Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities. "Even one incident of sexual assault, harassment, or any other forms of violence in our communities is one too many. That is why it is so important that there are policies in place that let those affected know they can come forward without fear of reprisal."
Based on recommendations from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), the proposed changes would require postsecondary institutions to amend their sexual violence and harassment policies to protect complainants from irrelevant questioning about their sexual history. Also, complainants would not be subject to disciplinary actions for violations of an institution's drug and alcohol use policies at the time the alleged sexual violence took place.
"Our government has zero tolerance for sexual assault, and we stand with survivors and we support them in their healing," said Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues. "We want to ensure that our actions reflect that as well. These amendments will help reduce potential re-traumatization and encourage more survivors to come forward."
The proposed changes would also make Ontario one of the only Canadian jurisdictions with these protections specifically outlined in legislation or regulation.
"OUSA believes that post-secondary sexual violence policies should be trauma-informed, survivor-centric, and reflect the expertise in the field," said Julia Pereira, President of The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). "These proposed changes are one of many steps necessary to protect and support students who have experienced gender-based violence. We thank Minister Romano and Minister Dunlop for this announcement and encourage students to share their perspectives during this important consultation period."
Public consultations on the proposed changes to the policy will be welcomed until March 15.
Currently, publicly-assisted colleges and universities as well as private career colleges are required to have sexual violence policies that provide students with information on how the institutions will respond to students affected by sexual violence and harassment.
"These requirements ensure that the sexual violence policies meet a common standard, while providing institutions with flexibility to meet the unique needs of their communities," said Romano. "Ontario continues to be a leader in Canada for institutional requirements for sexual violence on postsecondary campuses. Supporting postsecondary institutions in their efforts to address harassment or violence on campuses is part of our government's plan to support their efforts to create a safe and respectful learning environment for all members of their communities."
Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to have postsecondary education sexual violence and harassment policy requirements in legislation or regulation.
In 2019, the government released the summary report of the 2018 "Student Voices on Sexual Violence" survey, which gathered the views of over 160,000 postsecondary students on how students perceive, understand and respond to sexual violence, as well as how institutions address sexual violence.
In 2020-21, Ontario invested $6 million to support sexual violence prevention and campus safety efforts at publicly-assisted postsecondary institutions through the Campus Safety Grant. This doubles the previous government's annual investment in campus safety.
The Campus Safety Grant helps institutions support all campus safety initiatives in the areas of awareness and education and supports and services. The grant can be used to support a variety of student focused programs and services, including safe-walk programs, awareness programs, safety training, staff salaries, equipment and for third-party organizations providing safety-related supports to students, such as counselling services from local sexual assault centres.