EDITORIALS  We Need a Better Sexual Violence Policy

content warning: mention of sexual violence

As of January 1, 2019, McGill has missed the deadline set by Quebec’s Ministry of Education to update its sexual violence policy. Bill 151, passed in December 2017, mandates all post-secondary institutions in Quebec to adopt a new sexual violence policy, or to update their existing policies. Other institutions, such as Concordia University, have met the deadline, while Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and most CEGEPs have not. Although Bill 151 provides the first step to creating a more comprehensive sexual violence policy, it still has issues that need to be addressed. The Bill demands that the new policies include mandatory trainings for students and staff, a standardized complaint process, and support services for survivors. While these changes must be implemented by September 2019, our demands should not stop at Bill 151.

McGill’s current Policy against Sexual Violence was adopted in 2016, and received a grade of C- from OurTurn, a student movement that addresses sexual violence on campuses across Canada. According to Provost and Vice-Principal Academic Christopher Manfredi, the new policy is “in review,” and is expected to be completed in February and seek approval from the Senate in March or April. The current policy mandates compulsory training for counselling and front-line healthcare professionals, but not for other members of the university community, as Bill 151 stipulates. McGill’s Code of Student Conduct also does not explicitly include a section on relationships between students and teaching staff, which is mandated under Bill 151.

In a roundtable discussion with the Daily, Principal Suzanne Fortier maintained that McGill already introduced a policy on sexual violence in 2016, and therefore did not miss the deadline set by the province. Fortier’s argument neglects the fact that students still have to live with a policy that does not comply with provincial regulations.

The McGill administration has not done enough to address student concerns about its sexual violence policies. At last year’s walk-out, organized by the Concordia Student Union and SSMU, several hundred students demanded that the administration take action. This came after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged against at least five professors within the Faculty of Arts. McGill students called for an external investigation into sexual misconduct of professors and for a stand-alone sexual violence policy. The report published by the Ad- Hoc Committee on Teaching Staff-Student Intimate Relationships does not fully ban student-staff relationships. The administration has continually ignored student concerns over the inadequacy of the report. In response to students chanting “we want a ban” at a Senate meeting on December 5, Principal Suzanne Fortier said, “I think we all heard you. You don’t have to repeat that twenty times.”

McGill has failed to demonstrate that it is committed to ensuring the safety of students and supporting survivors. An open letter published a year ago by OurTurn and several other organizations included other recommendations to improve Bill 151. While McGill’s sexual violence policy is still being reviewed, we have the chance to push administration to exceed the requirements of Bill 151. McGill students have made clear through their actions that they advocate for a survivor-centric approach from the administration. Until then, the burden of care continues to fall on students.

While this continues to be a problem, there are ways to pressure the administration to improve their policy and overall attitudes regarding sexual violence. The first step is to follow the policy updates, and hold the administration accountable for the deadlines Manfredi announced. Secondly, you can email Angela Campbell (angela.campbell@mcgill.ca), who is in charge of the external investigation on teacher-student relationships to voice your concerns. Third, you can show up when demonstrations are organized on campus. Lastly, you can go to the next Senate meeting on February 20 and disrupt the event if nothing has been done by then.

SACOMSS and O-SVRSE are on-campus resources for students who have experienced sexual violence.