Federal Committee to Develop National Framework Governing On-Campus Sexual Violence Policies

Minister Maryam Monsef says federal oversight is needed to update the “hodgepodge of policies” currently in place across the country

Maryam Monsef, current Minister of Status of Women in Canada. (wiki.commons)

During the first meeting of a newly appointed advisory committee tasked with drafting a Canada-wide framework to combat sexual violence in post-secondary institutions, Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef made it clear that the federal standard needs to be raised, according to the National Post.

During the meeting, which took place in mid-January, Monsef referred to the structure currently in place at institutions across Canada as a “hodgepodge of policies” that colleges and universities had adopted “to varying success.”

Another member of the committee—the national chair of Students for Consent Culture Canada (SFCC), Connor Spencer—said that “federal oversight is an important step in changing the culture that exists on these campuses, and the provinces and the federal government will have to work together on this.” She added that many of the laws currently in place don’t meet the SFCC’s “minimum standards” for addressing sexual assault on campus, such as clear timelines for responding to sexual violence complaints.

How long students have to wait for responses to their complaints was also brought up in a 2018 Maclean’s article entitled “Canadian Universities Are Failing Students on Sexual Assault.” The article profiles several students who attest to the high level of social and emotional stress that their college or university’s sexual violence policy puts on them as survivors of assault, causing many of them to drop out of classes entirely.

In an email to The Runner, a spokesperson for minister Monsef outlined the importance of a unified national policy across all Canadian campuses.

“Our government is introducing a process to develop a harmonized national framework because we believe that everyone should be protected against gender-based violence, and that all survivors should have equal access to supports, regardless of where they live or study,” reads the email. “That process will involve working closely with our provincial and territorial partners, along with other stakeholders, to protect young people across Canada.”

Unlike many other countries, Canada does not have a federal department in charge of education. Instead, responsibility for maintaining the standards of post-secondary institutions is decentralized amongst the provinces. Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s policies addressing sexual assault and misconduct, for example, were designed to comply with the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. Section C-6 of that policy states that “the University will respond in a timely manner to disclosures, complaints, and reports of sexual violence and misconduct.”

If a federal framework governing post-secondary institutions’ responses to on-campus sexaul violence is passed, KPU will likely have to add a specific timeline for responding to complaints to its policies.

This framework will help universities, colleges, and CEGEPs when developing or updating their plans and policies on campus violence and will provide guidance on elements like principles, prevention, support, training, response, accountability, and reporting,” the spokesperson for Monsef wrote in the email to The Runner. “To get this right, we are working with post-secondary institutions, student groups, survivors, provincial & territorial governments, front-line service workers, and other stakeholders. The national framework is a tool that will require colleges, universities, and CEGEPs to provide a base level of support to survivors and protect students against gender-based violence.”

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