Content Warning: Mention of sexual violence
Survivors who report allegations of sexual violence to McGill can now request information about the specific disciplinary or administrative action taken by the university against their aggressor. Quebec’s Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information had previously prohibited higher education institutions, including McGill, from sharing such information to protect the accused person’s privacy. However, Bill 64, which the National Assembly passed in September 2021, mandates universities to share these details with survivors as of Sept. 22, 2022.
McGill’s revised Policy against Sexual Violence captured these legal changes during its triennial review, held over the Winter 2022 and Summer 2022 terms. The updated Policy, which also included changes to reflect the university’s new internal resource for reporting—the Office for Mediation and Reporting (OMR)—was passed by the McGill Senate on Sept. 21.
The change will only apply to survivors who file a report under the Policy after Sept. 22 and whose case results in a finding of sexual violence following the university’s investigation process, according to McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle.
Previously, survivors would only be told their case ended—no further detail about disciplinary consequences would be disclosed unless the accused person gave their permission to do so. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Stella*, a survivor who filed a report under the Policy in Fall 2020, explained that not knowing the specific disciplinary action imposed on an aggressor can take an extreme mental toll.
“[Being reprimanded] could literally mean ‘oh, just rewatch the It Takes All of Us training’,” Stella said. “Then you think about all this trauma I have been through, the fact that it scares me to look at myself in the mirror, or that I am shaking or having nightmares every night.
Is that all it’s worth? Just redoing a seminar on saying no and asking for consent? Or are they expelled? [….] If you do not know that, you are still going to be looking for them behind your shoulder constantly.”
Stella added that being left in the dark can also make it hard to feel safe while attending school.
“No matter what, you’re not going to fully recover,” Stella said. “They are changing your life forever and you want to know what the school [is] doing to protect you because you are a student and you chose to go to this institution to study, to get involved, not to experience this.”
In an email to the Tribune, Émilie Marcotte, a sexual violence response advisor at the Office for Sexual Violence, Response, Support and Education (OSVRSE), believes transparency is crucial throughout the reporting process to ensure survivors feel safe when coming forward.
“Rather than being left with uncertainty, knowing the disciplinary results will help finalize the reporting process for a survivor,” Marcotte wrote. “Seeing the concrete outcomes that emerge from that initial act of reporting provides further accountability and can help the survivor in regaining a sense of agency.”
Rachael Diotte-Lyles, advocacy branch representative at the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), believes that the policy change creates a safer campus environment for survivors and that it could make survivors more likely to report instances of sexual violence.
“It was difficult for survivors to justify going through [the reporting] process and reliving traumatic memories when, even if it was determined that sexual violence occurred, they would remain in the dark about the disciplinary results,” Diotte-Lyles wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Through this change […] the University is taking steps toward making survivors a priority.”
*Stella’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.
Those wishing to report an instance of sexual violence at McGill can contact OMR at [email protected]. Those in need of counselling can reach out to OSVRSE at [email protected] 514 398 3954 or SACOMSS at [email protected].