Ontario faculty support government action on sexual violence and harassment

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Professors and academic librarians are commending the Government of Ontario for taking action to address sexual violence and harassment in our communities, workplaces, and on university and college campuses across the province. Last week, legislation was before the Social Policy Committee at Queen’s Park that would require every university and college in Ontario to have a sexual violence policy in place, as well as collect and share data regarding sexual violence and harassment. If passed, Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act would also expand employer duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to include “workplace sexual harassment.”

OCUFA and CAUT submitted a joint written brief stating their support for these measures and making recommendations for improving the bill. In addition to the current requirement for student input in the development and review of campus sexual violence policies, we made the case that all campus groups affected by these policies must have the right and opportunity to provide input.

We also suggested that the bill provide separate definitions of sexual violence and sexual harassment in the Act that governs the newly required campus policies. Separate definitions would be more consistent with current legislation (Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act); would ensure that existing case law can be built upon; and recognize the distinct legal implications of sexual violence and sexual harassment.

The submission also noted that campus sexual violence and harassment policies must reference the centrality of academic freedom at the university, as well as guarantee that academic work related to issues of sexual violence and harassment not be hindered by these policies.

Overall, the measures in Bill 132 will help fill gaps in existing processes available for addressing sexual violence and harassment on campus, which is particularly urgent for students. We are also encouraged that it will support campus communities in providing better supports and services for victims or survivors and challenging the underlying attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate sexual harassment and sexual violence.

On January 22, OCUFA President Judy Bates presented OCUFA and CAUT’s recommendations to the Standing Committee on Social Policy. CAUT and OCUFA’s full submission can be read here.

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