Université Laval staff, students reach consensus on policy to counter sexual violence

Université Laval in Quebec City says it wants to make it easier for victims of sexual violence to report incidents, setting out new guidelines for relationships between students and staff in positions of authority.

Mandatory online awareness workshops for all students and staff

A vigil was held Oct. 19, 2016, for victims of sexual assault at Université Laval in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Officials at Université Laval are putting in place a comprehensive new policy to counter sexual violence on its Quebec City campus, banning all romantic and sexual relationships between staff members in positions of authority and their students.

The policy, which will also lead to the creation of a centralized support centre for victims, was drawn up with the input of students and staff.

"The system is broken and has shown its limits," said Rector Sophie d'Amours.

D'Amours said the move reflects the ongoing discussions on consent and sexual violence that have made national and international headlines in recent years, including the #MeToo movement.

An incident in 2016 at Université Laval, in which a student broke into the rooms of several women on the campus, also led to a widespread debate on rape culture in Quebec. 

The student was later sentenced to three years in prison for the assaults.

Support system, awareness campaign

A key feature of the new policy is the planned resource centre for the prevention of sexual violence, the Centre d'intervention et de prévention des violences à caractère sexuel (CIPVACS).

Psychologists, sexologists and other professionals there will welcome students and accompany them, whether to report an alleged criminal offence or make a complaint of a sexual nature about a staff member or another student.

The vice-rector of student affairs, Robert Beauregard, said once the centre is up and running, a victim of sexual violence won't have to go knocking on several doors to seek help.

"Instead of playing ping-pong by sending someone to security, then to the hospital, then to student affairs, we'll be able to intervene as soon as a situation occurs," said Beauregard.

Robert Beauregard, the vice-rector of student affairs at Université Laval, said the new policy will help the university become more proactive in preventing sexual violence. (Catou Mackinnon/CBC)

Students and staff at the university will all have to take a mandatory online workshop on sexual violence.

"What is it that we call sexual harassment, sexual violence? We will state that this is not acceptable to us," he said.

Student-teacher relationships banned

The new policy also outlines clear rules on romantic or sexual relationships between a student and a staff member.

A teacher or another employee who is in a position of authority will not be permitted to engage in such a relationship with a student.

However, such relationships would be permitted if the student and the staff member don't interact with each other in a professional context.

"It is unacceptable for a person who is in a position of authority to engage in this kind of relationship, which will have unhealthy consequences on the lives of these two people," D'Amours said.

The university points out, however, that the majority of reported cases of sexual violence involves members of the student body.

U Laval among 1st to comply with Bill 151

D'Amours said the university based its strategy on the recommendations that came out of Université du Quebec à Montréal research in 2017.

Université Laval will fully implement its new policy addressing sexual violence by Sept. 2019, the deadline set by the Quebec government in Bill 151. (Radio-Canada)

That study found that 36.9 per cent of students in Quebec's francophone universities reported having been a victim of some form of sexual violence.

"Fifty-seven per cent of cases happened during a social event, like a student party," D'Amours said, underscoring the need for more prevention and awareness work.

D'Amours commended the student associations at Laval for actively taking part in the elaboration of the policy and for having put in place initiatives on the ground to raise awareness.

"They showed that, for them, this is a societal issue." 

The number of incidents of sexual violence during frosh week has gone down over the past few years, according to the Kevin Villeneuve-Tremblay, president of the university's graduate students association (AELIÉS).

Villeneuve-Tremblay said AELIÉS made sure the leaders of smaller student groups within the association had the proper training to intervene, should problems arise during events.

"We need people who can identify situations that could become problematic, and who will act," said Villeneuve-Tremblay.

By having a mandatory online workshop, he said, it will be easier for everyone to identify when someone is crossing the line.

"We want everyone to have the same definition of consent."

​The policy is posted on the university's website and is open for public consultation until Oct. 26.

It will then be submitted to the board of directors for approval and will be implemented over the coming months.

Laval is one of the first universities in Quebec to comply with a law passed last winter for the prevention of sexual violence.

Under Bill 151, all Quebec CEGEPs and universities must adopt formal complaint procedures, victim support services and a code of conduct for student-professor relationships by September 2019.