New Brunswick

Universities, province eye sexual assault reporting standards

The Association of Atlantic Universities is examining how its members prevent, respond to, and report on incidents of sexual assault.

Association of Atlantic Universities looking to improve safety and security for students

Atlantic universities are re-examining sexual assault policies. (CBC)

The Association of Atlantic Universities is examining how its members prevent, respond to, and report on incidents of sexual assault.

Peter Halpin, the executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, says a new working group is being formed to improve polices around sexual assault prevention, response and reporting. (CBC)
Peter Halpin, the association’s executive director, says a safe campuses working group has been formed to improve security on campuses and responses to sexual assaults.

The working group includes representatives from universities and colleges from across Atlantic Canada.

“Our workshop, which will be for senior leaders in our institutions, is really going to focus on prevention and that's in terms of policy, programs and best practices, incident management,” he said.

Halpin said the group will also involve student representation and examine reporting standards for incidents of sexual violence.

A CBC News investigation in February revealed some New Brunswick and Nova Scotia universities either released low numbers of sexual assault reports or no numbers at all, until compelled under access to information laws.

“I credit the CBC and their focus on inconsistencies in reporting and we're going to look at reporting, legal compliance and investigation and of course the communications aspect of all of that,” said Halpin.

The group had its first meeting at the beginning of March and it will meet again in two weeks. Halpin did not have a timeline as to when he thought new policies would be implemented.

The New Brunswick government confirmed to CBC News in an email that it is going to be working with schools on how sexual assault reports are handled. 

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne recently launched an action plan on reducing sexual violence. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)
That comes on the heels of an announcement by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that her government will introduce legislation to make reporting mandatory by public post-secondary institutions.

Wynne released a detailed action plan and ad campaign aimed at reducing sexual violence in that province. One section of the plan deals entirely with rape culture and sexual violence on campuses.

Post Secondary Education Minister Francine Landry said in a statement emailed to CBC News that she is reviewing what is happening in Ontario,

“We will be reviewing the Ontario report and will be ready to work with universities,” she said.

“We understand that post-secondary institution [sic] in New Brunswick are looking at how they gather statistics on sexual assault cases and how they respond to them.”

'We are not perfect'

Laura Dillman, Mount Allison University media relations officer, stated in an email to CBC News that the school sees the Ontario strategy as a positive development, and that the association working group is a welcome step in the Atlantic region.

“Mount Allison looks forward to playing an active role in this collaborative effort," the email stated.

In February, Mount Allison insisted it didn't see value in publicly releasing statistics on sexual assault reports. 

"The issue of releasing numbers is to what end do they  for what purposes are the numbers used?" Robert Inglis, the university's vice president of administration, told CBC News at the time,

"Ultimately our focus on sexual assault and harassment is not about the numbers, it’s about the individual cases, managing each student and their individual needs."

The more recent email to CBC News outlined Mount Allison University's objectives when dealing with fostering a safe campus environment.

“Our goal has been and will always be to make our campus a safe environment for our students to study and grow, and to that end we have had policies, student education programming, and victim response and counselling services in place for many years," the email said.

"That said we know we are not perfect and can always do better.”

Ron Byrne, the vice-president of student affairs at Mount Allison University, said in February he wasn't sure students knew the number of sexual assaults reported there each year.

A Right to Information request revealed Mount Allison received 14 reports between 2009 and 2013.

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