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Ontario announces changes to strengthen sexual violence, harassment policies at postsecondary institutions

Proposed reforms aim to reduce fear, stigma for students reporting assault
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The Legislative Assembly of Ontario. RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario. RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY

The Ontario government is strengthening the current sexual violence and harassment policies for postsecondary institutions, including U of T. 

Currently, postsecondary institutions must have policies that provide students with information regarding the response process to sexual violence or harrassment. U of T’s policy launched on January 1, 2020, and details how it responds to allegations. 

However, the newly improved policies aim to better “protect complainants,” increase safety on campuses, and reduce stigma and fear for students who are seeking to report an allegation.

The changes that the Ontario government is proposing are based on recommendations from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, an organization that represents roughly 150,000 postsecondary students in the province.

One major part of the changes is to protect students from “irrelevant questions about their sexual history.” In addition, students would not face any consequences from their institution for “a minor violation of an institution’s policies related to drug and alcohol use at the time the alleged sexual violence took place.”

A spokesperson for the Ontario government wrote in an email to The Varsity that the changes build on action the government took in 2019, when it announced that all publicly-assisted postsecondary institutions must annually disclose the number of sexual violence reports and the supports provided to survivors to the institution’s governing board.

In addition, the changes “would also make Ontario one of the only Canadian jurisdictions with these protections specifically outlined in legislation or regulation,” according to the spokesperson. The amended sexual violence and harassment policies have not yet been drafted, but when they are, “the Ministry of Colleges and Universities will consider input from interested stakeholders.”

“Our government has zero tolerance for sexual assault, harassment and any other forms of violence in our communities,” the spokesperson wrote. “We believe that no one should have to worry about sexual violence on or off campus.”

Angela Treglia, Director Sexual Violence Prevention and Support, wrote in an email to The Varsity that U of T is following the proposed amendment and “will continue to ensure that the University’s policy aligns with all legislative requirements.” 

Treglia wrote that U of T is “heartened” that its initial view of the proposed amendments revealed that these changes will align with its current practices. She also added that U of T remains “committed” to reducing barriers for students who are affected by sexual violence and harassment, and providing resources to support these individuals.

Despite changes to policy, some U of T students are still concerned about the school’s response to sexual violence. They have said that the university’s centralized body for sexual violence support is not accessible enough. 

The Varsity attempted to reach out to Silence is Violence at U of T, but learned that the collective is not active at this time.