News  Dealing with sexual assault at Canadian universities

Recent incidents call attention to lack of resources

Trigger warning: this article contains discussion of sexual assault.

On February 26, McGill will host a Forum on Consent. The Forum, open to the McGill and Montreal communities, will include keynote speakers, panel discussions, and small breakout groups.
SSMU VP University Affairs Joey Shea, who will co-chair the Forum, explained to The Daily that diverse attendance is important to the Forum’s effectiveness.

“I would encourage students to go to the chairs of their departments and lobby for them to attend the Forum because [… it] is not going to do anything if people don’t end up showing up, or if key players don’t end up showing up.”

“Trying to engage students who wouldn’t normally come to this type of event” is important, noted Shea.

Shea is also working on a document to be released and circulated around the same time as the Forum. “There will be a number of recommendations [in the document such as] the fact that there should be a policy specifically regarding sexual assault.”

Part of Shea’s document will look at how different Canadian universities handle sexual assault. In the last six months, McGill, the University of British Columbia (UBC), the University of Toronto (U of T), and St. Mary’s University (SMU) have made national headlines with sexual assault controversies.

In light of the recent incidents, The Daily investigated the various disciplinary mechanisms for sexual assault at these universities to evaluate how they compare to McGill.

Recent incidents

In November 2013, the Montreal Gazette published an article that detailed the 15-month-old sexual assault charges brought against three then-members of the McGill football team.

This sparked widespread outrage and debate, and prompted an email several weeks later from Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens to the entire student body responding to the charges.

In the first week of September 2013, SMU was the subject of outrage when videos surfaced of students performing a Frosh chant that advocated non-consensual sex with underage girls.

That same month, UBC faced media attention after its Commerce Undergraduate Society performed a similar chant.

Both Frosh controversies occurred at a time when concern was growing about a series of sexual assaults on the UBC’s campus.

Later in September, SMU’s media attention continued when a SMU student was suspended after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

In December 2011, U of T professor James Payne was charged with sexual assault by the police, but continued teaching until the complainant informed the university of the charges in August 2013.

Students at U of T expressed concern in the Varsity, one of U of T’s campus newspapers, that Payne was able to continue to teach students for two years with the sexual assault charge pending, arguing that there should be protective mechanisms in place for students.

Codes of conduct

McGill’s Code of Student Conduct and Displinary Procedures does not explicitly mention sexual assault, instead defining generalized assault and sexual harassment under the “Physical Abuses, Harassment and Dangerous Activity” category. The first clause of the category reads that no student shall “assault another person, threaten another person or persons with bodily harm or damage to such person’s property,” and the third reads that no student shall “harass, sexually or otherwise, another person or persons.”

In an interview with The Daily, Dean of Students André Costopoulos explained McGill’s disciplinary procedures.

“The allegation goes to a disciplinary officer. The [disciplinary officer] investigates and decides whether to bring formal allegations forward, and then decides whether it’s going to be handled at a discipline interview, or handled in a committee, or a student discipline hearing. And [then] there are potential sanctions.”

“Discipline is not the only possible response,” added Costopoulos. “It may be that we have discipline going forward, a criminal complaint going forward, and a civil complaint going forward all at the same time.”

At UBC, sexual assault is not explicitly mentioned in the Student Code of Conduct. Similar to McGill, assault is included under section 4.2.1 in UBC’s Code: “Misconduct against persons, which includes: physically aggressive behaviour, assault, harassment, intimidation, threats, or coercion.”

U of T’s Code of Student Conduct lists sexual assault as the first type of “offense against persons,” reading: “No person shall assault another person sexually or threaten any other person with sexual assault.”

SMU’s Student Code of Conduct does not deal with sexual assault, only harassment. The university instead has an explicit policy that deals solely with sexual assault.

The policy outlines the appropriate responses for university officials and outcomes for a sexual assault report. Outcomes range from “a written warning or letter of reprimand,” to “suspension, probation or expulsion in conjunction with existing disciplinary procedures and/or collective agreements.”

Crisis and survivors’ resources

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) has been active at McGill since 1991. The Centre is volunteer-run and is solely funded by student fees. SACOMSS provides drop-in hours, runs a crisis line, and provides advocacy for students, staff, and faculty.

UBC’s Sexual Assault Support Centre is run by their Alma Mater Society, and is supported by $3.25 from student fees. The Centre provides services such as crisis support, advocacy, outreach and education, and service referrals.

U of T does not have a sexual assault centre. Instead, their Counselling and Psychological Services office has specific provisions for sexual assault survivors to access counselling, and also provides education, workshops, and consultation.

SMU, like U of T, also does not have a separate sexual assault centre. Sexual Assault survivors can seek assistance from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, as outlined in the university’s sexual assault policy.

Specialized staff
Costopoulos stated that McGill is in the process of interviewing candidates for a Harm Reduction Coordinator. “We’ve had quite a bit of interest. We’ve had lots of applications and we’re interviewing for the position, so the position should start very soon.”

The Coordinator, according to Costopoulos, will oversee the various initiatives on campus that tackle sexual assault, and help answer the question: “Is what we have now enough?”

Despite a student referendum in which UBC Commerce students rejected the proposal to fund a sexual assault counsellor position with student fees, the university will be adding the position to its staff as a response to the string of campus assaults and the Frosh chant controversy.

U of T has counsellors available to students. Sexual assault counsellors, in particular, can be reached through a confidential voicemail system.

Beyond the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, SMU has little in the way of specialized staff.

SACOMSS was not available for comment as of press time.