This past week saw the Government of Ontario introduce the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act on October 27. The legislation, if passed, would help make homes, campuses, workplaces, and communities safer and to support survivors of sexual violence.
The Ontario government released a statement clarifying the changes; the legislation would require “[every] publicly assisted college and university and private career college to have a stand-alone sexual violence policy and to review [their policy] at least once every three years.”
Moreover, campuses would be required to report incidences of sexual violence to the minister or superintendent, as well as on the effectiveness of their initiatives to address sexual violence. Student input will also be required during policy development and review processes.
Celia Wandio, a fourth-year student and founder of Students Against Sexual Violence U of T, believes the act is a good first step, but that it is not enough to create the change that is needed. “Simply requiring that universities create policies does not necessitate that these policies be good, nor does it mean they will necessarily be followed and implemented properly,” Wandio said. “We’ve seen this problem in the US: even though they’ve had legislation like Title IX for ages, the problem of sexual violence persists with inadequate action from university administrations.”
“Simply requiring that universities create policies does not necessitate that these policies be good, nor does it mean they will necessarily be followed and implemented properly.”
U of T has responded to calls for action against sexual violence by forming the Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence.
The committee is not in charge of developing policy, but will make recommendations to the president and provost this year including prevention efforts, how to ensure reports of sexual violence are addressed, and making sure sufficient support is available to victims.
However, if the legislation does not pass, it is unclear whether U of T will take the necessary steps to develop a sexual violence policy outside of provincial obligation. “I quite frankly do not think U of T would be considering updating and adding to its sexual violence policies and procedures without internal and external pressure,” Wandio said.
“We are very supportive of the Premier’s action plan, and the committee is certainly taking the proposed legislation into consideration as they determine what their recommendations will be,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T. “That said, at this stage it’s premature to speculate about what the committee will recommend and if that will result in new or revised policies.”
Wandio said that policy changes should not come from the top down and that students as well as the administration should be able to work together. “I am trying to remain optimistic about what U of T will produce, and I hope students and the administration are able to work together on this, but we need to avoid becoming complacent. Whatever changes they make or don’t make, they need to know that students will be watching and holding them accountable,” she said.
Outside of campuses, the proposed legislation would create specific employer duties to protect workers, remove the limitation period for civil proceedings based on sexual assault, shorten the time it takes to end a tenancy agreement for those experiencing domestic or sexual violence, and eliminate the limitation period for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to make a compensation application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.