What Bill 132 means for Laurier students
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario recently passed Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.
The Wilfrid Laurier University’s Student’s Union played a large role in the creation process of the Bill, which was drafted and passed in only a year.
“This bill will force universities to have a policy in place for sexual violence,” said Olivia Matthews, Students’ Union president and chief executive officer.
Last May, a select committee of the social policy committee from the legislator went across Ontario to hear from universities, colleges, students’ unions and victim advocacy groups, among others, about their experience with sexual violence and harassment.
Each group taking part was able to bring forth ideas and recommendations in regards to the content of Bill 132.
Laura Bassett, Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs, explained that the Students’ Union had four main themes which they planned to address and advocate for at the committee meetings.
The first was a hope for a single policy, which covered all forms of sexual violence and harassment to provide a clear definition of what sexual violence is.
“It wasn’t very concrete or clear as to what students were supposed to do … they kind of treated it like everything else,” said Bassett.
“So say your car has been vandalized, you do the exact same things as you would with sexual harassment.”
The Students’ Union advocated for the government to take a leadership role in creating definitions for universities to adopt within their policies.
According to Bassett, the Students’ Union recommended that the Bill reinforce the importance of better education and professional training to combat sexual violence for senior level administration, staff, faculty members as well as student leaders in order to ensure protocol is maintained when situations of sexual violence are disclosed.
“For example, the work we did with the Hawk Pact to talk about consent, mental health and substance abuse during Orientation Week is now going to be mandated across the province,” explained Matthews.
As well, through the use of climate surveys on campus, universities will be able to gain a thorough understanding of what is going on within their campuses when it comes to sexual violence and harassment.
There is a survey currently circulating on Laurier’s campus about safety to help gather an understanding of gendered violence and sexual assault.
The Students’ Union’s fight for the residential tenancy act was the one of greatest impact.
“What is unique about what the Students’ Union has done, is the residential tenancy piece, which will allow students and people in general to leave their leases unobstructed if they have been sexually assaulted,” explained Matthews.
The Students’ Union advocated for an amendment that allowed individuals to exit their lease by giving their tenants 28 days notice for reasons of sexual violence and harassment.
“It’s our hope that the residential tenancy act will allow people who are victims of sexual violence, assault or harassment to have avenues of support and to have ways to remedy that when they’re in that situation,” said Chris Hyde, Student Union’s director of policy, research and advocacy.
Specifically, the tenancy act will be of significance to the Laurier community given the type of living conditions in which students usually live — often, consisting of a high number of students living in a confined space.
Lastly, the Student’s Union hoped that Bill 132 would instil a more compassionate response to sexual violence and harassment and an empathetic climate that is survivor-oriented.
The Students’ Union hopes Bill 132 will encourage more survivors to come forward, regardless of whether they choose to press formal charges.
“We want to make it clear that survivors should have the choice to come forward and disclose to someone and still access the services and supports,” said Hyde.
“Or, you can not disclose to someone and still access those services and supports. That’s the most important thing.”