Montreal

Are Concordia and McGill doing enough to deal with sexual assault allegations?

Following a series of alleged assaults at Laval University in Quebec City, the province announced plans for consultations examining the issue of on-campus sexual violence across the province. Here's a look at what's happening at Concordia and McGill.

Quebec government launches province-wide consultations in wake of alleged assaults at Laval University

McGill University (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Following a series of alleged assaults at Laval University in Quebec City, the province announced plans for consultations examining the issue of on-campus sexual violence across the province.

According to Higher Education Minister Hélène David, the meetings between now and March 2017 are meant to establish "common practices that will then be framed in a policy or even a law."

But while the provincial government gets the process underway, what are universities in Montreal doing right now to tackle sexual assault on their campuses, and what challenges are they facing?

Here's a look at what's happening at Concordia and McGill.

Concordia policy aims to reduce 'burden' on survivor

Following a sexual assault report released in August 2015, Concordia University adopted a new sexual violence policy last spring, which aims to streamline the process for victims of on-campus assault looking for resources.

Jennifer Drummond, co-ordinator of Concordia's Sexual Assault Resources Center, said the changes reduce "the burden and the stress on the survivor to get the support they need."

"I can call together a response team depending on the situation and the wishes of the survivor, so they don't have to go around from service to service, place to place, repeating their story and looking for different types of help," she said.

Gabrielle Bouchard from Concordia's Center for Gender Advocacy said the new policy has the potential to make a positive impact, but that more needs to be done to bring about fundamental changes at the university.

For instance, Bouchard said that Concordia's approach to dealing with alleged perpetrators needs to be more concrete.

"Usually what happens is there will be a sexual assault, and then the perpetrator will be able to go about their business as if nothing has happened," Bouchard explained. "It's business as usual."

In Bouchard's view, it is the alleged victim — and not the perpetrator — that must make adjustments in their life on campus.

Drummond agrees that accommodations should be made that prioritize the comfort of the survivor, but says this can sometimes be difficult to accomplish at the expense of the alleged perpetrator.

"It is very tricky, because unless there is some … complaint with the university or a tribunal hearing, or with the police, or a restraining order, it's very difficult to impose consequences on someone for their actions or their behaviours," Drummond said.

McGill 'not committed enough,' critic says

Following the 2013 revelation that three McGill student athletes were facing sexual assault charges (which were eventually dropped in 2014), students began working on a standalone policy to deal with the issue.

But in April 2016, a group called The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students' Society published an open letter, saying that the university was refusing to move forward with their proposed policy.

"We are tired of empty words and hollow actions," the group wrote.  "We are tired of an administration that does not prioritize supporting survivors of sexual assault."

The administration responded to the issue with its own draft of a sexual violence policy last month, which aims to "prevent sexual violence through education and other proactive efforts … support survivors of sexual violence; and to respond effectively to disclosures and reports of sexual violence."

Despite the university's proposed action on the issue of on-campus sexual violence, some are saying that not enough is being done, including McGill political science student Leila Mathy.

Mathy wrote an opinion piece  in The McGill Tribune on Sept. 29 decrying the university's proposed measures as being insufficient.

"I found that it was actually very non-committal, very flimsy with its terms, and didn't have any harsh punitive measures … for alleged perpetrators," Mathy said in an interview with CBC News.

"The harshest punitive measure that's proposed is temporary suspension from university activities. It's just not committed enough to actually doing something about the problem."

Mathy said that McGill should consider expulsion of perpetrators as a response to instances of sexual violence, so that victims wouldn't have to "see their perpetrator on campus every single day, and live with that kind of fear and trauma.

In a statement, McGill's associate provost said its new policy has been "the subject of extensive consultation and discussion across the campus over the last two months."

"This policy will be adopted shortly, affirming McGill's commitment to supporting survivors and raising awareness about sexual violence and its prevention," said Prof. Angela Campbell.

She added that the university has "committed broad resources to support an office and additional staffing dedicated to sexual violence prevention and response."

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