Tribune Explains: SSMU’s endorsement of the Sexual Violence Petition

The  Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) endorsed a petition on Oct. 29 demanding that the Quebec National Assembly amend its current privacy laws. The change would allow universities to disclose to survivors of sexual assault the sanctions institutions apply to their aggressors. Since its release, the petition has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures. The McGill Tribune looked into what this proposed amendment could mean for Quebec’s university and CEGEP students. 

What are the petition’s demands? 

Started by Alexandra Dupuy, Sarah Bérubé Thibault, Laurianne Ladouceur, and Stéphanie Thibodeau, four students and staff members from University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), the petition calls for an amendment to the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information (CQLR c. A-2.1). The act currently does not  allow CEGEP and university administrations to disclose information about disciplinary measures taken against alleged perpetrators of sexual violence. 

Prior regulations governing privacy were passed in 1994. The National Assembly is currently in the process of modernizing several regulations relating to privacy documents under Bill 64: Act to Modernize Legislative Provisions Respecting the Protection of Personal Information. Introduced to the National Assembly on June 12, the Bill currently limits universities’ ability to disclose penalties imposed on people found to have committed acts of sexual violence. 

If passed, Bill 64 will establish a default system of privacy known as “privacy by design.” This system ensures that public or private institutions that collect personal information must guarantee high levels of confidentiality for those whose information is collected. Additionally, Bill 64 will increase fines for both public and private institutions who fail to follow the province’s new proposed privacy legislation. 

The petition therefore calls on the Government of Quebec to amend Bill 64 to mandate universities to disclose to survivors of sexual violence the disciplinary procedures placed on their aggressors. Petitioners argue that this would increase transparency within institutions that have historically covered up incidents of sexual violence. This is in accordance with Bill 151: An Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions, which was passed in 2017 and intended to protect survivors of sexual violence.

How could Bill 64 impact the McGill community? 

As stated in SSMU’s endorsement of the petition, Bill 64 would help break the current culture of silence surrounding sexual violence at Quebec’s post-secondary institutions. As with all other universities in Quebec, when a report of gendered or sexual violence is made at McGill, the complainant is not informed of the outcome. 

This means that McGill students and staff who report sexual or gendered violence will not be informed about any sanctions applied to their perpetrators. This is currently codified in McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence, which sets out provisions outlining the procedure for dealing with allegations of sexual violence. Under the policy, complaints are delegated to a Special Investigator who is able to undertake an investigation. The results of the investigation are then submitted to the Provost for further review. 

What is survivor-centric justice?  

The petition represents a move towards survivor-centric justice, which is an approach to justice that prioritizes the needs and safety of survivors of violence above all else. This approach can include treating survivors with dignity and respect, allowing survivors to access a private and non-judgmental environment, providing relevant information to allow survivors to make informed decisions, and ensuring that the survivor’s confidentiality is maintained. 

The aim of survivor-centric justice is to prevent re-traumatization through legal proceedings. It is proven that this approach, in which the survivors’ lived experience is taken into account, encourages survivors to come forward about the violence they have experienced.

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