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Recommendations delayed until late January

Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Andrew.

As numerous post-secondary institutions across Canada commit to creating comprehensive sexual assault policies, updates to the University of Ottawa’s policy have been pushed to the end of January.  

The university created a task force on respect and equality in March in response to two events: two members of the men’s hockey team allegedly sexually assaulted a Lakehead University student, and a sexually graphic conversation about student federation president Anne-Marie Roy was posted online.

Initially, the university’s taskforce expected to release its results by the end of November.

Caroline Andrew, director of the U of O’s Centre on Governance and the head of the taskforce, said the deadline has been extended because it was difficult to conduct consultations during the summer, and they now want to reach a larger volume of people.

“We want to hear from absolutely as many people as we can,” she said.

In talks with both organizations and individuals from the Ottawa community, a recurring issue is the lack of clarity and accessibility of services on campus, she said. Another question that people are asking is how to encourage people to speak out about sexual violence, without “imposing that sort of burden on the person.”

The taskforce aims to determine what an effective sexual assault policy looks like, by analyzing different policies in place at other post-secondary institutions. “We’ve been asking mainly questions about what they think should be our priorities,” said Andrew.

The university’s sexual assault policy was last updated in 1998.

The U of O is one of only a few Canadian universities to have an explicit set of guidelines around sexual behaviour on campus, as well as a committee on sexual harassment.

According to a recent Toronto Star investigation, only nine of the 78 universities in Canada have some sort of policy that addresses sexual violence.

As a result of the investigation, Queen’s University, the University of Saskatchewan, and Colleges Ontario have agreed to create a sexual assault policy. The 24 colleges include Algonquin College and La Cité collégiale in Ottawa.

Andrew also confirmed the taskforce has investigated the possibility of a code of conduct, and they are looking at it “with a great deal of attention.”

“There’s a whole bunch of ways that it’s been done,” she said, “and sometimes people have a very narrow view of what that entails and largely seeing it as immediately punitive.”

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) has been a vocal opponent to a potential code of conduct.

The SFUO created a taskforce in the spring to fight rape culture on campus, and according to president Roy, it has had a busy semester.

The student federation has mandated all members of federated bodies to complete rape culture awareness training, and discussed consent issues at several events during 101 Week.

Roy also said the SFUO is closely following the university taskforce’s progress, and they are preparing to submit their own recommendations.

“The SFUO is looking at ways to better respond and be better prepared to receive cases of sexual assaults,” Roy said in an email. “In light of recent events with federated bodies surrounding sexual violence, it has become clear that a protocol to (respond) to such allegations needs to be outlined.”

Recently, an executive member of the International, Political and Policy Studies Student Association resigned due to sexual harassment allegations. “But also we know that this is an issue throughout the organization and that this isn’t an isolated case,” she said.

Andrew said the task of changing people’s behaviours and ideas about sexual violence is no easy feat, but the response they’ve seen so far is an “affirmation from people speaking that this is indeed a serious problem that should be addressed.”

To contribute to the taskforce on respect and equality, email equality@uottawa.ca.