McGill’s policy sexual harassment is up for review this year for the first – and perhaps only – time in its existence.
Adopted in December 2005, the policy, called Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, outlines the process by which members of the McGill community – students, employees, and office holders – can file and resolve a complaint of harassment, sexual harassment, or discrimination.
But since it is mandated to only undergo a review in its third year of existence, with no provision for future reviews, the stakes are high within the McGill Senate working group.
The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), urged the body to focus on revising the definition of sexual harassment in a document submitted to the working group.
The current definition of sexual harassment requires “intent, in whole or in part.”
“We want to focus on the effect of the situation because that’s most relevant to the survivor, as opposed to intent, which is more relevant to the perpetrator,” said SACOMSS external coordinator Becky Harris.
According to SACOMSS, regardless of intent, the effect is still sexual harassment if that’s how the survivor perceives it.
Professor William Foster, Assistant Provost Policies and Procedures, who is chairing the group, said they will discuss the definition “intent.”
“It can have a significant impact,” Foster said. “The issue of intent will be looked at.”
He noted the difference between subjective intent, defined as deliberate and conscious, and objective intent, the way a reasonable person would interpret conduct regardless of intent to sexually harass.
SSMU president Kay Turner was concerned that decisions on sexual harassment cases effectively lie in the hands of two people.
According to current policy, a member of the McGill community may file a complaint against another member to an assessor – an appointed administrator or academic. The assessor then attempts to facilitate a mutually agreeable informal resolution, but if the agreement fails, the assessor then recommends or discourages disciplinary action to the Provost. They in turn can render whatever disciplinary measures they see fit without having met the parties involved.
“It would be better for complaints to go through some sort of group of people,” Turner said. She also criticized the current system’s lack of a mechanism for appeals.
“My perception is that this is not an optimal policy. There are better ways it could be shaped for all parties involved, specifically in the review of complaints and the appeals process,” Turner said.
SACOMSS’s letter shared Turner’s sentiments and suggested the working group create a provision for appeals.
If parties agree to an informal resolution – such as a formal written apology or switching residences – they waive any right to external or further internal recourse. The survivor is therefore unable to sue the perpetrator in a court of law, or take any other course of action should they change their mind. If the decision goes all the way to the Provost, the survivor must go through a grievance procedure to appeal the decision.
SACOMSS representatives have been invited to the next working group meeting.