From February 6 to 13, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) held several student consultations on revisions to the University’s Policy Against Sexual Violence. The groups wanted to collect student feedback prior to the proposed policy going to Senate later this month. The consultations co-coordinated by volunteer students from the Support Branch at SACOMSS were held across both campuses, and included closed sessions for survivors.
The University’s current Policy Against Sexual Violence, established in 2016, has received a C- grade from the student-led advocacy group Our Turn, and has not been updated since, failing to meet deadlines set by the provincial government to adopt an approved policy.
Consultation sessions went over amendments to the Policy, provided clarification on sections that may be overburdened with bureaucratic language, and gave an opportunity for attendees to voice their concerns about the Policy. Volunteers running the consultation sessions stressed the importance of student engagement and advocacy, emphasizing the need for getting diverse opinions and ideas back to the administration.
Additions to the Policy include new definitions of terms, changes to disciplinary decision-making processes, and more explicit procedures of support for survivors. Notably, “the McGill context” now involves off-campus locations and activities. Additionally, the definition of “Teaching Staff ” now includes TAs, lab techs, and athletic coaches. The new policy also bans disciplinary authority in administrative decisions, meaning no external factors will be allowed to sway decisions. A set of new procedures aiming to clarify and simplify the process of reporting incidents of sexual violence are now included, along with guidelines for investigations of a claim.
Participants voiced concerns over accountability: many felt the policy was weak in this regard. Those concerned see the power of the administration and that of the special investigator to be overreaching and potentially unreliable. One participant asserted that accountability measures were meaningless if there was no action. Since known perpetrators remain at McGill, survivors continue to feel unsafe. Participants also posited that serial offences should be a separate consideration, and a distinct category in the updated policy. Despite the University’s new commitment to “support survivors based on their personal experiences, whether or not a criminal offence has been proven,”
participants voiced concern that the specificities of this support are not outlined in the Policy. Participants proposed increased protection measures for survivors, such as access to information concerning the whereabouts of perpetrators, regardless of outcomes.
Following the consultations, reports will be compiled and presented to SSMU executives, SACOMSS, and the University administration. These reports will inform ongoing revisions to the Policy, and will be voted on next month.