Ottawa

OCDSB to vote on new policy to prevent child sexual abuse

Ottawa's largest school board will be debating the implementation of a new child sexual abuse prevention policy on Tuesday evening.

The policy would set requirements when it comes to the prevention of child sexual abuse

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board began reviewing its policies around sexual abuse in 2018. (Submitted by Ottawa-Carleton District School Board)

Ottawa's largest school board will debate the implementation of a new child sexual abuse prevention policy on Tuesday evening.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) began reviewing its policies around sexual abuse in 2018 after a CBC investigation shone a light on historical sexual abuse by three teachers who, over the course of decades, preyed on students at the same Ottawa high school.

But the policy lacks substance, said Peter Hamer, a survivor of the sexual abuse committed by a teacher at Bell High School in the 1980s. 

The policy would set requirements when it comes to the prevention of child sexual abuse, such as implementing awareness and education programs to prevent and identify grooming behaviours, but it does not provide details about how exactly it will work.

"It's barely four pages," said Hamer, who volunteers at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a charity trying to reduce the victimization of children. "The principles are good. [But] it really comes down to what are the procedures associated with [it] once the policy is put in place?"

'People who are hired to be teachers and principals and administrators are not investigators,' says advocate Peter Hamer. (CBC - Radio-Canada © 2018 / Michel Aspirot)

A spokesperson from the board was unavailable Monday to answer questions from CBC. 

School board trustee Rob Campbell said there are good points made in the policy — addressing the need for trauma-informed outreach and culturally relevant supports for marginalized communities, for instance.

Without that clear policy of what to do with it, sometimes those things don't get escalated.— Karyn Kibsey, Canadian Centre for Child Protection

But he also has questions about the finer points of how certain situations will be handled.

"But then what happens typically later on is the staff will independently pen the detailed procedures to implement the policy," he said. "And the procedures don't necessarily come forward to the board [but are] public."

Aiming to eliminate grey areas 

"Many boards will have policies regarding reporting sexual abuse, but there's always those grey areas that might not get addressed in those policies," said Karyn Kibsey with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which trains school boards across the country — including the OCDSB. 

Organizations themselves don't have the ability or skill sets to manage investigations associated with inappropriate behaviour.— Peter Hamer, survivor and advocate

Kibsey said it's not always clear what needs to happen if somebody observes a boundary violation, and hopes this new policy will set parameters that are clear for all staff. 

"We can have a tendency to think that maybe we've read too much into something or recognize, well, it doesn't fit in a policy about reporting sexual abuse," she said. Making it straightforward in a formalized policy is essential, she added.

"Without that clear policy of what to do with it, sometimes those things don't get escalated." 

No independent oversight

Hamer — who is also a board member at VoiceFound, an Ottawa-based charity trying to make communities safer and supporting survivors of child sexual abuse and human trafficking — said he would like to see independent oversight be part of the policy as well.

"The key component to any kind of policy that speaks to childhood sexual abuse is organizations themselves don't have the ability or skill sets to manage investigations associated with inappropriate behaviour." 

He added that organizations can sometimes have conflicting roles, and schools and school boards don't have the skill to investigate potential grooming of students or child abuse. 

"People who are hired to be teachers and principals and administrators are not investigators," he said. 

"Maybe they'll flesh it out in the procedures. But I think it should be the overarching principle of the policy, as is the independent oversight. It's required."

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story attributed Rob Campbell as saying "procedures don't necessarily come forward to the board [or] public." In fact, Campbell misspoke, and the quote should read "procedures don't necessarily come forward to the board [but are] public."
    May 10, 2022 10:15 AM ET

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