The Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) national consent culture forum this past week brought members of student unions across the country to Ottawa to discuss how sexualized violence on campus is being addressed.
Meanwhile, the U of O chapter of the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) held a silent auction, and invited several experts to discuss rape culture in local terms.
Lawyers Silmi Abdullah and Karin Galldin, University of Ottawa law professor Elizabeth Sheehy, and activist Julie Lalonde analyzed the 11 recommendations the university’s Task Force on Respect and Equality made to the administration in January.
The U of O created the task force in response to several events over the last year. They’re now in the process of finalizing the action team which will be charged with implementing the recommendations.
“I know in the last year we talked a lot about rape culture, but we want to take our culture from a rape culture to a consent culture,” said Anne-Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), who spoke at the CFS’s conference and who’s part of the task force’s action team until her mandate with the SFUO finishes up in May.
Last February, Roy was the subject of a sexually graphic Facebook conversation between several student leaders who resigned after the chat was made public. A few days later, Thunder Bay police broke the high-profile news of an alleged sexual assault by members of the men’s hockey team. In November, another student leader resigned from his position after allegedly sexually harassing a first-year student during 101 Week.
Roy said these events have shifted the dialogue around sexualized violence on campus. “I remember last March giving interviews and the media asking me, ‘What do you mean by rape culture? What is that?’” said Roy, adding that some thought she made the term up.
Feminists first coined the term in the 1970s to bring attention to the prevalence of sexual violence in American society.
“I feel now society is recognizing its existence and having a dialogue around the issue,” said Roy.
The Government of Ontario’s sexual assault policy, introduced this month by Kathleen Wynne, puts the province ahead of rest of the country, said Roy.
Lalonde, who first got involved in anti-sexual violence activism when she campaigned for six years to create a sexual assault centre at Carleton University, will also be on the university’s action team.
She was brought in to weigh in on the importance of involving the greater Ottawa community in the U of O’s sexual assault policy.
“One of the biggest pieces is that they’re just not working with communities,” said Lalonde. “You have all of these amazing people in your community … why don’t you bring them into the fold? Why don’t you integrate them and their perspectives into the work happening around campuses?”
Lalonde said that U of O president Allan Rock wants the recommendations to be implemented by next spring before his mandate as president is finished.
Problems haven’t only been at the U of O, however. Several highly publicized events and issues have recently forced post-secondary institutions across the country to address sexual violence on campus.
“Our big concern right now is that there seems to be this trend, talking about sexual assault policies and pumping them out really quickly,” said Roy. “We’d rather have our institutions take the time to consult students and to write long, well-versed policies that are actually effective.”
The action team plans to have all 11 recommendations implemented by next spring.