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‘Assault and harassment are too prevalent’ on university campuses: report

Photo by Tristan Simpson/The Ryersonian

TORONTO (CUP) — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s newly revealed plan to combat sexual violence in Ontario includes commitments to address sexual assault policies on post-secondary campuses.

“We want to improve safety on our campuses, where assault and harassment are too prevalent and often go unreported and unchecked,” a report about the plan said.

Wynne unveiled the strategy, a 36-page manual titled “It’s Never Okay: an action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment,” on March 6.

The $41-million plan aims to increase support and education against sexual violence and harassment over three years. Some of the included approaches are an improved health plan teaching students in Grades 1–12 about consent, legislations to speed up the process of dealing with sexual assault claims, and policies on sexual violence and harassment in the workplace and on campuses.

Another part of the plan is an awareness campaign called #WhoWillYouHelp which includes already-released advertisements about bystander intervention.

Post-secondary-specific commitments include introducing legislation that will require colleges and universities to adopt sexual assault policies “developed with significant input from students” that are renewed every four years, requiring schools to publicly report sexual violence as well as initiatives to address sexual violence and ensuring that campuses have around-the-clock support for survivors.

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The premier’s announcement comes after a Toronto Star investigation published in November revealed only nine of more than 100 post-secondary institutions in Canada have defined policies about campus sexual assaults.

The University of Ottawa was not one of the nine, but has since announced in January that it will accept all the recommendations made by the university’s task force on respect and equality, including the implementation of a new sexual violence policy and protocol.

In a lead-up to the launch of the Ontario government’s plan, Wynne held a roundtable with members of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Ontario on Jan. 14 to hear their thoughts on sexual assault policies on campus.

Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) vice-president of equity Pascale Diverlus attended the roundtable.

“When we met with her she was really adamant in pushing us to push our administration to put our voices at the table,” Diverlus said. “It doesn’t make sense for a policy to be made for us without our input.”