At the Nov. 1 sitting of the National Assembly of Québec, Minister for Higher Education Hélène David introduced Bill 151, which aims to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions. The bill would require all universities in the province to develop a policy against sexual violence that is separate from its other policies and includes guidelines for student orientations, training, and the handling of intimate relationships between students and faculty members.
“The purpose of this Act is to strengthen actions to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions and to help foster a healthy and safe living environment for students and personnel members,” Bill 151 reads. “To that end, the Act in particular provides for the implementation of prevention, awareness-raising, accountability, support and individual assistance measures.”
The proposed bill is the product of months of consultations between David and representatives of various stakeholder groups, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), Our Turn National Action Plan, and the Association of the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). McGill Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity) Angela Campbell was also present at a number of these consultations, though she is confident that the university’s current Policy against Sexual Violence sufficiently complies with the bill’s proposed guidelines.
“The proposed legislation has symbolic value and stands to make a significant practical impact, foregrounding the shared responsibility that institutions, including post-secondary institutions, have to prevent and respond to sexual violence,” Campbell wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “McGill already meets most of the requirements of the proposed legislation, notably a commitment to mandatory education for all members of the campus community, a stand-alone Policy against Sexual Violence, and an Office that dedicates resources specifically to the support of survivors and to education and awareness-raising about consent and sexual violence.”
McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence explicitly states that consent cannot be given in circumstances where an abuse of a relationship of trust, power, or authority occurs, such as in the relationship between a professor and their student. However, student offenders are under a different policy than faculty, who are held accountable to the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Tenure Track and Tenured Academic Staff.
After working extensively on improving McGill’s Policy, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer feels that its structure improperly defines sexual violence and is not “stand-alone,” which she says would require outlining procedures for discipline independent from academic regulations.
“[McGill’s Policy is on] a separate piece of paper, but the procedures are still the procedures under the Code of Student Conduct, and that means that you automatically get transferred to procedures meant for academic infractions,” Spencer said. “It’s not trauma-informed, or survivor-centred, and it just doesn’t have those realities reflected in how those procedures are set out. For the policy to truly be stand-alone, it needs its own procedures as well.”
Further, Quebec’s Act respecting labour standards mandates that the university must keep many of its disciplinary processes confidential, keeping survivors in the dark about how the university handles their cases.
“If we really want to have procedures with professors, there needs to be a change in […] Quebec labour law,” Spencer said. “That’s something that really can only happen at the provincial level anyway.”
Caitlin Salvino, Co-Chair of Our Turn National Action Plan—a guideline encouraging student unions to adopt a pro-survivor stance at Canadian Universities—shares Spencer’s concerns about the importance of having a stand-alone policy. To ensure that action is taken, she believes that the provincial government should also provide formal channels for overseeing proper implementation of the bill at universities like McGill.
“The bill is not going far enough right now,” Salvino said. “It needs to create minimum standards for the policies that they’re mandating […] and there needs to be an oversight body that survivors can make a claim to or make a complaint to.”
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