On Tuesday, the WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre held a rally in Vancouver to kick off the school year with a call for post-secondary institutions to address sexualized violence and support survivors on campus. I was invited to speak at the event but, unfortunately, was not able to make it over to Vancouver on that dat so I sent the organizers a copy of the speech I had prepared.
Below is a transcript of the speech that their Executive Director Irene Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer graciously read on my behalf.
I am pleased to have been offered the opportunity to send along some information about the legislative progress that has been made relating to sexual assault policies over the past six months.
First, please let me provide some context on how I got involved with this topic – for most of my life I have either studied at or worked on university campuses around the world. For the last two decades, I have been a professor at the University of Victoria, the same university I attended as an undergrad in the 1980s.
My professional responsibilities are now largely centered around the legislature and my position as the MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head and Leader of the BC Green Party. But I still spend a great deal of time working with, and speaking to, students and young adults and have been absolutely sickened with the seemingly endless wave of stories about sexual assaults happening on and close to universities and other post-secondary campuses in B.C.
This past Spring I arrived back at my legislative office after a meeting in Vancouver to find my staff eagerly waiting for me with a campaign pitch and copies of Ontario legislation on their desks.
“Sexualized violence is a massive issue in B.C.”, they started, “and there is so much we can do to improve the situation – starting with colleges and universities.” One sentence in and I was on board. We immediately got to work, reviewed Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, and drafted up a B.C.-version of their Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.
We compiled a list of over 50 student societies, assault support centres, and key people across the province and contacted each one for input.
On March 8 I introduced Bill M205: Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act. The bill, based on similar legislation introduced in Ontario, was designed to address the pervasive occurrence of sexualized violence plaguing universities, colleges and other post-secondary institutions in British Columbia.
Noting that many post-secondary institutions lack sexual-assault policies, few have on-campus sexual assault crisis centres, and hardly any collect related incident data, the bill was designed to create a legal responsibility for universities and colleges to develop and maintain policies that would work to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence and provide support for victims.
The act would also require university and college-specific policies to be developed that would meet the needs of students, including education and protection, while working to create a safe environment for all students to come forward to report a sexual assault.
With an estimated one in three women and one in two transgender individuals experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime, this is a community issue that desperately needs to be addressed and post-secondary campuses present a unique opportunity to intervene.
The week after I tabled the Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act I followed up with the Premier in question period.
Noting that action on this issue was long overdue, she pledged to work with me to officially pass a version of my bill – urgently before the spring legislative session ended in May. I was thrilled with the progress on this pressing issue. I have since met with the Minister of Advanced Education to discuss next steps in moving this forward, and will continue to consult with students, survivors, support groups and university faculty and staff to make sure their voices are included as we build these laws. Sexualized violence in our communities is a huge problem, but it is important to remember that it is also a problem with incredible potential for progress.
With the start of the school year upon us it is important to remember that your universities and colleges are now legally obligated to develop and maintain policies that would work to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence and provide support for victims. These policies must be developed in consultation with the student body, and they need to be implemented by this coming Spring – one year from when the bill passed. If you feel that your school is not fulfilling their responsibilities, engage with your student society, ask the administration what policy progress has been made and how you can provide input to the policy development process. If you have additional concerns, you are always welcome to call my office at the legislature.
I am grateful to be able to work on this crucially important issue and owe a debt of gratitude to the incredibly courageous survivors of sexualized violence who have spoken out and help move us all forward.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide a few remarks, I wish you all a successful and safe term!