While schools are generally the ones handing out the homework, the Quebec government has issued an important assignment for higher education institutions in the province, requiring them to adopt, by January 1, 2019, a policy to prevent sexual violence on campus. By the time students return to class for the winter semester, universities, colleges and institutions holding a permit for college-level educational services, in addition to several other educational institutions, must have adopted a policy conforming to the requirements in Quebec’s Bill 151: An Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher educational institutions (the “Act”). These same institutions will then have until September 1, 2019 to implement their sexual violence policy, required by law to be separate from all other institutional policies.
The policy should be designed to address all forms of sexual violence or misconduct, taking into account persons at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence such as those from sexual or gender minorities, cultural communities, Native communities, foreign students, and persons with disabilities. Sexual violence has been defined in the Act to include any form of violence committed through sexual practices or by targeting sexuality, including sexual assault, as well as any other misconduct that relates to sexual and gender diversity in forms such as unwanted direct or indirect gestures, comments, behaviours or attitudes with sexual connotations, including through technological means.
The Act sets out minimum policy requirements, such as:
- the implementation of prevention and awareness-raising measures to counter sexual violence, including legal information and mandatory training for students and personnel members;
- safety measures to counter sexual violence, including infrastructure adjustments to secure premises;
- procedures for reporting incidents of sexual violence and for filing complaints, with the possibility of doing so at any time;
- a set of actions to be taken when an educational institution is made aware of an incident of sexual violence;
- a code of conduct specifying the rules which apply in cases where an intimate relationship develops between a teacher, or a person in a position of authority, and a student; and
- penalties applicable in the event of a policy breach.
Institutions covered by the Act will also be required to establish a standing committee made up of students, officers, and personnel members charged with developing, reviewing, and ensuring implementation of the policy. Each year the institution will be required to publish an annual report outlining, among other things, the various measures implemented to combat sexual violence, as well as the number of complaints received and treated. Furthermore, the Act requires that the policy be subject to formal review at least once every five years.
Educational institutions failing to comply with the obligations in the Act could be subject to a variety of oversight and monitoring measures imposed by the Minister, who has the power to determine that unmet obligations be performed by a third-party at the expense of the institution in question.
With the deadline for policy adoption quickly approaching, there is little time for educational institutions to procrastinate on this matter. While completing this policy assignment is a legal requirement, it is also an important step towards addressing sexual improprieties on campus and fostering a healthy educational environment for all.