Ontario’s largest student group is asking Premier Kathleen Wynne to push universities and colleges into adopting stand-alone sexual assault policies as well as mandatory education programs for students.
Members of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students met with Wynne at Queen’s Park on Wednesday evening to talk about the problem of sexual violence on campus and how schools can better prevent and respond to it.
Wynne, who along with Tracy MacCharles, the minister responsible for women’s issues, met with 21 student leaders from schools across Ontario, said her government was committed to tackling what she described a very real and pressing issue.
“I don’t believe that it is negotiable that students who go to university or college in Ontario should feel safe,” said Wynne, during brief introductory remarks. “We need to do everything in our power, as students, as faculty, as politicians,” to make sure the best practices are in place across the province, she said.
Wynne had asked students to provide her with examples of existing policies, or models of comprehensive policies, to inform the discussion.
“We are at a moment where there are more people paying attention and so we have to seize that moment and make some gains,” said Wynne.
The meeting follows a recent Toronto Star investigation that revealed just nine of 78 public universities across Canada and no public colleges in Ontario had adopted special policies to deal with sexual assault, seen by many experts as an important step.
Following the Star’s investigation, Ontario’s colleges committed to creating a uniform policy and the universities have begun a multi-pronged plan to address the issue.
The meeting was part of a series of government consultations being undertaken before the Liberals launch their sexual violence action plan in March, which will include recommendations on combating sexual violence and harassment in schools and workplaces across the province.
Anna Goldfinch, of the Ontario student federation branch, told the Star the organization — which represents 350,000 college, undergraduate and graduate students — asked Wynne to use the plan to recommend that colleges and universities adopt sexual assault policies and commit to mandatory education on sexual violence.
“Students have been working on their campuses trying to get specific sexual assault policies for years. Harassment policies don’t cut it,” said Goldfinch.
Goldfinch said Wynne and MacCharles were very receptive to their suggestions, agreed on the importance of student involvement and finding new ways to hold schools accountable.
“These policies have huge impact and when we let students into the discussion we win because students are the expert on this issue,” she said.