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I recently had a rare free Saturday night and sat down on my couch to binge on Netflix. As I was scrolling through the recommendations I saw that the controversial documentary “The Hunting Ground” was recommended for me. The movie is about alleged sexual assaults and sexual violence on American university campuses and the responses by the administrations of the universities to the allegations. According to information on the movie’s website, the movie has led to changes to laws in New York and California.
A few days later, I read an article about issues at Berkley in California. The article explained that students and alumni have been accusing the university’s administration of failing to make it a place safe from sexual harassment and sexual violence and alleging that the university has not responded appropriately when it has learned of incidents.
The movie and the article are signs of the current climate regarding sexual harassment and violence. Both highlight gaps in reporting and response mechanisms to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence on post-secondary campuses. In Ontario, Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Plan Act contains provisions that respond to these sorts of gaps and codify the response processes required of universities and colleges. Bill 132 received Royal Assent on March 8, 2016.
Bill 132 creates a framework and obligations for various bodies, including colleges and universities. Under Bill 132, a college or university in Ontario shall have a sexual violence policy that,
(a) addresses sexual violence involving students enrolled at the college or university;
(b) sets out the process for how the college or university will respond to and address incidents and complaints of sexual violence involving students enrolled at the college or university, and includes the elements specified in the regulations relating to the process;
In addition to having the required sexual violence policy, colleges and universities shall ensure that student input is considered, in accordance with any regulations, in the development of its sexual violence policy and every time the policy is reviewed or amended. These provisions come into force on January 1, 2017
Some post-secondary institutions in Ontario have already made public the actions they have taken or will be taking to comply with the requirements under the Act. For example, the University of Toronto has already begun to create a new policy and implement a Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre that will have a presence on all three of its campuses. In March, Queen’s University announced that it had approved a new sexual violence policy four days before Bill 132 received Royal Assent.
As noted by my colleague, Cory Boyd in his November 10, 2015 blog post, in 2015, 24 publicly-funded colleges in Ontario created a Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence Policy and Protocol Template.
It is expected that other post-secondary institutions will be also be updating their policies or implementing new policies in order to comply with Bill 132. All universities and colleges in the province must implement their sexual violence policies by January 1, 2017.
About the Author: Toronto Employment Lawyer Andrea Lowes conducts workplace investigations into allegations of harassment, bullying, poisoned work environments, and other problematic workplace behaviour. Andrea also assists her clients by providing workplace investigation and human rights training to staff at all levels. Andrea’s practice also includes workplace assessments and reviews.