UBC passes new sex assault policy, will create centralized offices to respond

The policy was accepted by the board of governors Thursday, will take effect in about a month, and cover a broad range of misconduct including sexual assault, harassment and stalking.

All B.C. post-secondary institutions required to have policies by May 19

Until now, most sex assault reports have been resolved informally, with only a few cases advancing to a non-academic misconduct process. (CBC)

The University of British Columbia has approved a new sexual misconduct policy that will create centralized offices at its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

All public universities in B.C. must have policies by May 19, but UBC began working on a policy several months before Premier Christy Clark's government passed legislation last year.

The policy was accepted by the board of governors Thursday, will take effect in about a month, and cover a broad range of misconduct including sexual assault, harassment and stalking.

The university will hire directors of investigations to review reports and refer them to external investigators, who will have 60 days to complete their work.

Until now, sex assault reports have often been resolved informally with a few cases advancing to a non-academic misconduct process where allegations were judged by a panel of students.

An independent review of UBC's handling of multiple reports about a PhD student in 2015 found that while staff acted in good faith, miscommunication and an unclear process led to delays.

'Policies are just written on paper'

Glynnis Kirchmeier, a UBC alumna who filed a human rights complaint over the school's handling of sexual assault reports in 2016 says she commends the school for making progress on the issue, taking in community feedback and improving upon earlier draft policies.

However, she says she still has concerns about the independence of investigators who work in the process and the power of university lawyers over the process, especially when it comes to disclosing the outcome of an investigation.

She is also concerned the policy won't do enough to track allegations against individuals, which can come from multiple complainants who don't know others have similar allegations about a particular person.

"I want, so much, to be hopeful about this policy," she said. "But ... policies are just written on paper. What are the practices going to be?"

Kirchmeier says it's difficult to know if the new policies would have prevented the situation that led to her human rights complaint, which she says is still ongoing.

With files from Liam Britten