Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

In light of the provincial government releasing the results of an Ontario-wide sexual violence survey on March 19, The Varsity sat down with David Piccini, current MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), to discuss the implications of the results and the delay in their release.

Student Voices on Sexual Violence was a survey commissioned by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (AESD), the Ministry of TCU under the current Progressive Conservative government.

“It’s, as far as I’m aware, the most comprehensive and in-depth look that’s gone to campuses and colleges around Ontario,” Piccini said.

It was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in all provincially-funded postsecondary institutions from February to April 2018. Across Ontario, over 160,000 students responded.

The results showed that at U of T, 61.7 per cent of respondents reported that they did not understand how to access supports, including how to report sexual violence. In addition, 22.9 per cent reported being dissatisfied with U of T’s response to sexual violence, 22.1 per cent reported that they had been stalked, 17.2 per cent reported a non-consensual sexual experience, and 58.7 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment.

“The results were deeply saddening,” Piccini said. “One experience of assault or harassment on campus is really one too many.”

Piccini emphasized that the ministry took immediate action, mentioning the four initiatives released by TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton alongside the release of the report.

Fullerton announced that the government would double the Women’s Campus Safety Grant, and require publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, deliver annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus, and create task forces to address sexual violence on campuses.

When asked about the potential release of further results from the survey, Piccini told The Varsity that the ministry has “referred [the report] to the Privacy Commissioner,” echoing Fullerton’s statements at the press conference when the report was released.

Fullerton had said that Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish will be consulted “on the release of additional survey results.”

When asked about why there was a delay in the release of the report, Piccini confirmed that it was a delay on the part of CCI Research, the company that developed and distributed the survey.

Piccini told The Varsity that the TCU received the survey results on March 17, two days prior to the public release on March 19. He also confirmed that postsecondary institutions received the report prior to its public release.

This is a marked shift from the release plan of the previous Liberal government, as this timeline leaves a window of no more than a day between when the report was released to postsecondary institutions and when it was released to the public.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail last year, Mitzie Hunter, previous Minister of AESD and current MPP of Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be shared with postsecondary institutions in summer 2018. Hunter added that some of the data would be made public and has since criticized the Ford government for “hiding” the results.

However, Piccini contradicted this point. “The previous government had no plans to release this to the public,” he said.

When asked about Hunter’s statement that the AESD had planned to publicly release the data, Piccini said, “I can’t speculate on what she was planning or what she wasn’t planning when we were given this report.”

In terms of implementing the four initiatives, Piccini said that he expects “an ongoing dialogue.”

“The realities are different from one campus to the next. The geographic realities, the size, the various different marginalized groups on campus all present unique challenges that I think must be addressed uniquely to that institution.”

He emphasized his commitment to work further with student groups across campuses to discuss and develop better strategies to continue the conversation about the issue of sexual violence on campus.

“There is not a group I will not meet with,” he said.

When asked if there are any more initiatives on the horizon from the ministry surrounding this issue, Piccini did not give any specific examples, but he cited the ministry’s commitment to viewing this issue holistically, involving mental health in the discussion, and continuing “this ongoing dialogue, and ongoing discussions we’re having with universities.”

“[It’s] important to engage students,” he said. “The solutions to this are going to involve all of us, our entire community.”