Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance proposes changes to provincial gender-based violence policies

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On Jan. 27, the Ontario government’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities proposed changes to the sexual violence and harassment policies at post-secondary institutions.

The proposed changes to Ontario Regulation 131/16 will require post-secondary institutions to amend their policies surrounding sexual violence and harassment. 

This policy amendment was made in an effort to ensure that students who report instances of sexual violence and harassment will not be faced with irrelevant questions regarding their sexual history. 

The policy amendment will also ensure that they will not be subject to disciplinary actions for violating an institution’s drug and alcohol use policies at the time that the alleged sexual violence took place.

These proposed changes were based on recommendations made by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA).

Julia Pereira, OUSA President and Laurier alum, said that they had met with Ross Romano, minister of colleges and universities, to discuss their recommendations around the sexual violence policies on campuses. 

“Our policy paper on gender-based and sexual violence prevention was published in March 2020, and a lot of those proposed changes in the announcement were a reflection of those recommendations,” Pereira said. 

“Our recommendations were definitely a reflection of conversations from students that we heard from on campuses that had these ideas to implement safer campuses and better policies to support them,” she said. 

Pereira, who is the Laurier Students’ Union VP: University Affairs, said OUSA works towards creating evidence-based policy in consultation with students. 

“We use those papers and our recommendations to advocate and lobby towards the provincial government for changes. So, the sexual gender-based violence policy is one example of a success that has received from our recommendations.”

The proposal will amend sexual violence policies that are already in place in post-secondary institutions.

“[When] these amendments are put into each institution’s stand-alone sexual violence policy, it just basically ensures that any response to sexual violence is trauma-informed and survivor-centric. So, giving students that peace of mind knowing that if they disclose an instance of sexual violence or harassment, these are two elements that they won’t be questioned on,” Pereira said. 

Pereira said that these proposed changes are just the beginning in advocating for sexual violence and harassment survivors on campuses. 

“These proposed changes are just one of the many steps necessary to protect and support students who have experienced gender-based violence, and I’m definitely looking forward to continuing that conversation and pushing more of our recommendations to ensure that happens.” 

“I think that having these policies that are trauma-informed and survivor-centric will potentially help the complainants or [those that disclose] sexual violence, and make it a little bit easier for survivors to tell their story in the way that they want,” she added.

OUSA’s comprehensive policy paper outlines their further recommendations regarding gender-based and sexual violence prevention. 

“I want to thank all the student leaders, and advocates and experts in the field who have shared their stories and contributed to the research on our forum to gender-based and sexual violence prevention and response policy, because that’s really how we can thrive as an organization, when we have that student-led voice,” Pereira said.

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