Post-secondary students ask Ontario government for standard sexual assault policy

Premier Kathleen Wynne met with Ontario university and college representatives on Wednesday at Queen's Park. (Tristan Simpson/The Ryersonian)

Premier Kathleen Wynne met with Ontario university and college representatives on Wednesday at Queen’s Park. (Tristan Simpson/The Ryersonian)

Students have met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to push for all post-secondary schools to develop a standard sexual assault policy.

Wynne met last week with 21 student representatives from the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) at Queen’s Park demanding action from university and college administrations on sexual assault and harassment.

Wynne said ideas from the meeting will assist the government as it develops a province-wide sexual violence action plan, to be launched in March.

“I don’t believe that it is negotiable that students who go to university or college in Ontario should feel safe,” she said.

Many post-secondary schools are reviewing existing or developing new policies after a Toronto Star investigation uncovered that only nine out of more than 100 universities and colleges had specific ones for sexual assault cases.

Ryerson is one of the schools in review.

“It’s sad how change comes after negative events, but … it’s nice to see some change from administrations,” said Pascale Diverlus, Ryerson Students’ Union vice-president equity who represented the university at the meeting.

The call for change comes after several cases of sexual assault at universities and colleges were reported in the media in the last two years. This includes a recent incident at Dalhousie University, where 13 male students allegedly posted misogynistic comments about classmates on Facebook.

“Sexual violence is happening on campuses and the media shows it,” said Anna Goldfinch, a representative from the CFS’s Ontario branch. “This has been happening for a long time and it’s time for school administrations to take it (seriously).”

She says that rushed policy amendments made under media scrutiny without student representatives will be inadequate.

“Student-led initiatives are working, but the administrative-driven programs aren’t,” she said, adding that students have been working to prevent sexual violence before schools began policy reviews.

“People had the impression from that story in the Star that the nine schools that have policies in place were managing sexual assaults and all the other universities weren’t. And that just isn’t true,” said Ryerson University’s vice-provost Heather Vetere.

Vetere is leading the review of Ryerson’s sexual assault policies. She has consulted with several campus services, including student housing, security, and counselling, that may deal with sexual assaults.

She said Ryerson currently has several policies that support sexual assault victims.

“What’s missing is having it all written down in one place,” she said, adding that Ryerson needs one document that clearly explains how to prevent and respond to sexual assault.

She will be consulting the RSU this week for feedback on  how to engage students.

The plan is to produce a report and draft a new sexual assault policy, which will be shared with the Ryerson community for consultation.

There is no release date for the report, but Vetere hopes to write it after attending a sexual assault conference with the Council of Ontario Universities at York University Feb. 20.


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