McMaster student leaders are welcoming an Ontario government action plan to make campuses safer and eliminate sexual violence, but say more still needs to be done.

They were speaking after Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon spoke at a public meeting Thursday on the university campus about the government's commitments and new legislation.

"Our government is working with post-secondary institutions to make campuses in our community and across the province safer," she said. 

McMahon says it's about giving workplaces and campuses the tools they need to better educate and prevent incidents of violence from continuing to happen.

 "They understand that their campuses have to be a zero tolerance zone whether it comes to staff, faculty...even people that don't work there all the time, need to be aware that if they do something while they're on campus that, that's not okay and they're going to be held accountable." 

"It's not - no means no, it's that yes means yes and only yes means yes and nothing more." - Giuliana Guarna, VP, McMaster Students Union

The proposed legislation is part of It's Never Okay, a three-year action plan launched in March 2015 to help change attitudes, improve support for survivors who come forward about abuse and make workplaces and campuses safer and more responsive to complaints about sexual violence and harassment.

MPP Eleanor McMahon, McMaster University's Patrick Deane and Mohawk College's Deborah Brown

Politicians and Campus Leaders working together to end sexual violence and harassment in the workplace and on campuses. (Sarah Janes, Digital Media Intern in the Office of Public Relations at McMaster University.)

The legislation, now before the house, institutes mandatory sexual violence and harassment policies, that they be vetted and discussed with their board of governors and directors, that they be made public and that universities and colleges be held to a standard of zero tolerance.

Giuliana Guarna is vice-president of the McMaster Students Union.

"It is critical that staff, students and faculty continue to play an important role in addressing the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment on our campuses" she said following the meeting.

"It's not — no means no, it's that yes means yes and only yes means yes and nothing more."

Since it's implementation, the province has committed forty-one-million dollars over three years to support the Action Plan.

Culture shift

"We are ensuring students have access to resources and supports, starting in their first week of orientation and continuing throughout the year, for all years of study,"  said McMahon.

Guarna, along with her colleagues, Shruti Ramesh and Hayley Regis, say more needs to be done including a major cultural shift.

 "Everywhere we look, the jokes we make, our friends, the songs we listen to on the radio, the tv we consume, the movies we consume, we really have to make a shift in how rape, sexual violence and gender based violence is looked at in every facet of our lives" said Guarna.
 

"It's important for everyone to understand that here at McMaster University there can be no tolerance for sexual violence of any kind" - Patrick Deane, President and Vice-Chancellor, McMaster University

In 2015, McMaster launched a new sexual violence response protocol and hired a sexual violence response coordinator to provide service and support to the community.

 "It's important for everyone to understand that here at McMaster University there can be no tolerance for sexual violence of any kind.

We have a particular concern for what happens to survivors of sexual voilence and are focused on ensuring that respectful and appropriate support is readily available" said Patrick Deane, president and vice-chancellor at McMaster.

Also included in the action plan: increased education and awareness through the Women's Campus Safety Grant, ensuring every campus has clearly stated protocols and procedures to address complaints of sexual violence and providing training, prevention programs and support systems for survivors around the clock.