By Ethan Jakob Craft
Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, announced on Tuesday a new PC government plan to address the growing threat of sexual violence and harassment on Ontario’s college and university campuses.
“Students should be able to move freely about campus without fear, and we can all agree that there are far too many instances of sexual harassment and violence at our post-secondary institutions,” said Fullerton at a Queen’s Park press conference Tuesday afternoon. “And that is something that we must address.”
The new investment plan outlined by Premier Doug Ford’s government calls for doubling, to $6 million, the available funds for the provincewide Women’s Campus Safety Grant program. The money will be used to increase security measures on post-secondary campuses by, among other things, installing more cameras and safety lighting.
The plan also mandates the formation of task forces at all Ontario colleges and universities by September 2019, which will be devoted to “tackling sexual violence on campus,” according to a press release.
The new plan comes after a 2018 report about on-campus sexual violence was released earlier in the day.
Approximately 160,000 post-secondary students across the province responded to the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey in which they were asked about their experiences with sexual violence as well as their knowledge about reporting and counselling practices.
According to the survey, 63.2 per cent of university students and 49.6 per cent of college students in Ontario said they experienced at least one instance of sexual misconduct in that academic year.
Ryerson students experienced some form of sexual misconduct at a rate just higher than the provincial average, with 63.5 per cent of student respondents saying they had encountered sexual harassment of some kind on campus — the highest rate of all post-secondary schools in the Greater Toronto Area.
Suze Morrison, the MPP for Toronto Centre and the official opposition critic for women’s issues, quickly criticized the PC announcement for not going far enough in its sexual assault prevention methods.
“I think this announcement falls woefully short of what survivors of sexual violence and misconduct really need,” said Morrison, who added that “bold action” greater than the PC government’s new plan must be taken in order to effectively combat on-campus sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is a problem at not just post-secondary institutions. It’s a societal issue,” said Sandy Welsh, the leader of the Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Sexual Violence. She hailed the release of the report as a great first step in combatting on-campus sexual assault, before reiterating the need to repeat a survey of this kind in the future to monitor and measure progress.
“We had a very good response rate considering it was an online survey about a sensitive topic,” said Welsh, who added that the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey had a higher response rate than a similar survey conducted by the U.S.-based Association of American Universities.
An average of 21.9 per cent of all Ontario post-secondary students responded to the survey, which was conducted online between February and April 2018.