Concordia University task force proposes mandatory sexual violence prevention training for all

Students don't know how to file complaints, don't know what resources are available to them, and aren't aware of how privacy laws limit the university's ability to respond to complaints, according to a report into sexual misconduct and sexual violence released today.

Students don't know how to complain, aren't aware of university's limitations set by privacy laws, says report

Concordia University launched a task force on sexual violence and misconduct as one of several measures to respond to allegations of a predatory environment in the school's English department in January 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Students don't know how to file complaints, they don't know what resources are available to them, and their expectations of what the university should do in the wake of a complaint don't align with the university's legal realities.

Those are the key findings of a task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence at Concordia University, according to a report released Tuesday.

"The community as a whole doesn't know a lot about our procedures, policies and what resources we have in place," said Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost and chair of the task force.

"We have a lot of work to do to train and educate our community members."

The task force made 42 recommendations to the university, including increasing funding for the school's Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) and providing mandatory sexual violence prevention training to everyone at the university: students, faculty and staff.

Former Concordia University student Mike Spry alleged there was a predatory environment within the university English department's creative writing program in an online essay in January 2017. (CBC)

The task force was created last January, after a former student, Mike Spry, published an online essay alleging that widespread sexual misconduct in the English department's creative writing program was an open secret at the university.

It was one of several measures, including a third-party investigation into that program, announced by Concordia University president Alan Shepard after Spry's piece received local and national media attention.

Prof/student dating must be 'strongly dissuaded'

Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost at Concordia, said that the task force wanted to make the language surrounding student/professor relationships clear. (CBC)
The task force addresses student/professor relationships, noting the university cannot legally ban them outright.

"The law doesn't give us enough actionable things to take place when two adults are consenting to a relationship. I think that as a university, we need to strongly say why these relationships aren't a good idea," said Ostiguy.

Ostiguy said that professors should be "strongly discouraged" from dating their students.and that any such relationships would have to be reported to the university as a conflict of interest.

Other key recommendations include:

  • creating a step-by-step guide to facilitate the complaint process.
  • instituting a review of the process every two years.
  • strengthening language in policies discouraging relationships between professors and students.
  • regular training on privacy laws in Canada, so complainants are aware of the challenges the university faces pursuing complaints made anonymously or on social media.
  • collaboration between the administration and student groups to hold workshops and other such events to "reshape the climate and culture of Concordia."
  • an increase in funding for SARC, through student fees.

Concordia University has faced criticism over its complaint process in the past. At least six Concordia students have filed complaints with Quebec's human rights commission since 2012.

​​Sophie Hough Martin, is the general co-ordinator of the ​Concordia Student Union. (CBC)

Sophie Hough-Martin, the general co-ordinator of the ​Concordia Student Union, told CBC that the report is "​a ​great start to addressing a campus-wide issue," but that she would like to see it go further.

Hough-Martin said that many students reported having a negative experience filing a complaint through Concordia, saying that there wasn't enough follow-up and that disciplinary actions weren't satisfactory.

She said she'd like to see more concrete measures to address these concerns.

"There are other universities in Canada that have done more to address issues of sexual misconduct and sexual violence on campus, within the legal constraints of the Canadian Criminal Code. So I don't see why Concordia University can't do the same," she said.