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University creates ‘harm reduction’ position

Action follows public backlash over sexual assault case

On March 31, Bianca Tétrault will take office as McGill’s Liaison Officer (Harm Reduction), a newly-created position reporting to the Dean of Students, according to an announcement from Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens.

Tétrault will “act as a central liaison for the units and groups involved in the prevention and reduction of discrimination, substance abuse, aggression, sexual assault, and other forms of harm,” as well as “develop and implement […] educational programming, resources, and events,” according to an email sent on behalf of Dyens.

In November 2013, a Montreal Gazette article revealed that three McGill football players were allowed to remain on the team in spite of an active sexual assault case against them. The public backlash inspired a series of actions on the part of the University, including a Forum on Consent held in February, an annual Forum on Safe Space to be held starting next October, and the creation of Tétrault’s position.

“[The position] came out of the backlash stemming from that incident, and also [from] highlighting the fact that there’s not a single person yet at this university who is dedicated to matters of sexual assault – even though these issues are quite prevalent, particularly on university campuses,” explained Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Joey Shea.

Shea, who was the only student serving on the hiring committee for the position, spoke favourably of Tétrault. “I think she’s absolutely perfect. […] She was by far the most qualified candidate […] for this position,” Shea told The Daily.

“I felt she would be able to work really well with the student groups – she speaks their language, she is a graduate of McGill in Social Work, she’s been a crisis support counsellor for many years, and really understands the issue quite well, so I am very pleased with her being picked.”

Tétrault’s course of action will first be to examine the sexual assault resources already in place at the university, and to then work on coordinating policy and designing outreach programs, according to Dean of Students André Costopoulos.

Costopoulos indicated that the Liaison Officer will “look at all the policy pieces we have in place in different places […] and see how we can bring them all under one package, one umbrella, and then ask ourselves: Is that enough, is that sufficient, or do we need more, and if we do, what more do we need?”

Costopoulos emphasized the importance of working with existing student groups. “We’ve […] been talking with SACOMSS [the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society], with the [Feminist Collective at McGill Law], the UGE [Union for Gender Empowerment], and a bunch of other groups, and they’ve been involved in discussions with us as we think about this position,” said Costopoulos in an interview with The Daily.

“One of the first things that [Tétrault] needs to do is get in touch, connect […] with all those constituencies, and listen to them,” he added.

The Daily could not reach Tétrault for an interview before press time.

In an open letter published online last Friday and republished in The Daily this week, student groups recognized the University’s “increasing attention to issues of sexual assault on campus,” nonetheless expressing their disappointment with the administration’s “lack of consultation with relevant campus groups, who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to tackling the prevalence of sexual violence and rape culture in our community.” SACOMSS, the Feminist Collective at McGill Law, and the UGE are among the signatories.

Shea hopes that the University will display its commitment to combatting rape culture on campus by working closely with student groups and institutionalizing the position.

“Right now it’s only a year-long contract, so I really hope that the University sees this as an issue that’s important enough to make a permanent position and not just a year-long contract,” she said.