Ontario’s colleges and universities have until the end of next March to reform their sexual violence policies so that students who make allegations are not disciplined themselves and will not be questioned by school investigators about their past.
In an announcement Thursday, post-secondary minister Jill Dunlop said the government was moving forward with regulatory changes, which student groups are calling for, after consulting earlier this year.
“Our first priority is the safety of students – everyone should be able to continue their studies on or off campus without worrying about sexual violence or harassment,” Dunlop said in a written statement.
“That’s why our government is working with post-secondary institutions to update their sexual violence and harassment policies to better support students who have already gone through a difficult experience and are feeling scared and vulnerable.
Western University is battling multiple allegations of sexual assault this month, including a social media posting alleging that female students were drugged and then sexually assaulted in a residence. Additional sexual harassment allegations had already been reported to the police.
NDP leader Andrea Horvath tweeted that she “stands in solidarity with Western University students who are speaking out against sexual violence, and those planning their exit to demand action. Sexual and gender Perpetrators of based violence must be held accountable. Women and girls have a right to feel safe and be safe on campus.”
Earlier, Premier Doug Ford posted on social media that “As a father of four young women, I am disappointed to hear about allegations of sexual assault at Western University last week. All victims of sexual violence deserve justice. All students should feel safe on campus.”
The new rules cover all public colleges and universities and private career colleges, and schools must ensure that a complainant, “acting in good faith, who discloses or reports sexual violence, is in violation of the institution’s policies.” for the use of drugs and alcohol at the time the sexual violence took place.”
They should not be asked “irrelevant questions from organization staff or investigators, such as questions related to past sexual history or sexual expression.”
The province already requires schools to report each year how effective its sexual violence policies and support for students are.
The latest changes were at the insistence of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, or OUSA, which has described the issue as a top concern among students.
The province announced earlier this year that it would consult on the new rules. At the time, Dunlop was the associate minister for children’s and women’s issues, and had said, “We … are making it clear that we have zero tolerance for blaming the victim.”
Dunlop, a mother of three daughters who attended post-secondary institutions, has also said, “We know that often women wrestle with the decision to report sexual assault, that investigations and legal procedures can prove to be just as painful as assault.” . We will keep the focus of the investigation on the attack… not on the irrelevant aspects.”
Complainants can go to the police with a charge of assault, but can also report it to their school, which will conduct its own investigation.