Spinning Pill

The Waiting Game

A year and a half after the Toronto Star revealed a lack of sexual assault protocols at universities across Canada, most of those policies still hang in limbo.

By Victoria Gibson, Assistant News Editor

On Canadian campuses, the clock has been ticking on sexual assault responses for a year and a half and counting.

In November 2014, a Toronto Star investigation revealed that only nine out of 102 Canadian universities and colleges had sexual assault or sexual violence policies in place.

The Star called several major universities out by name for lacking a policy: Queen’s, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, York, McGill and Ryerson University.

In the aftermath of the feature story, university administrations promised immediate action. Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf told The Journal at the time that a policy would be pursued on an “aggressive timetable” to rectify the issue.

It’s been 15 months since that feature was released.

Four out of six of the named “major” schools — including Queen’s — remain in limbo without a completed official sexual violence policy.

Ryerson and York University have released documents, although a York sexual assault survivor has claimed that the new policy didn’t help to protect her after she was attacked.

The Journal has investigated the status of promised policies at each of the major six universities named in the Star’s feature — and found that most universities are still waiting on answers.





U of T




The Assaults

One year before the Toronto Star investigation, the Montreal Gazette revealed an active sexual assault trial involving three members of the McGill Redmen football team.

Despite facing an ongoing case since April 2012 — when the three men were charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement — the defendants were permitted to remain on the team.

The backlash against the McGill administration was substantial, and although the charges against the players were eventually dropped, it was clear that the university needed a policy on sexual violence.

From that controversy came the Sexual Assault Policy (SAP) Working Group — a group consisting of current students and McGill alumni — which has been drafting their policy over the past two years.

The first complete draft was presented to students at a town hall for feedback just days before the Toronto Star investigation. The University had intended to present the policy to its Senate by May 2015.

But the deadline came and went with no policy approved. On Feb. 17, 2016, the Working Group released a final draft, but have since told The Journal that they fear McGill will resist taking any further action.

In a Feb. 29 email statement to The Journal, Cecilia MacArthur, the McGill student society’s Academic Research Coordinator, spoke on behalf of the SAP Working Group.

She said that while the group has consulted with administration, the policy has been entirely student-driven since the original sexual assault case.

Aftermath of the Investigation

“The [Toronto Star] article mentions that ‘McGill is looking into the issue,’ which seems to suggest that the McGill Administration has taken initiative,” MacArthur wrote in her Feb. 29 email to The Journal.

She said the University has been “reactionary”, and that they’ve “condemn[ed] sexual violence when it is brought to light, but fail[ed] to provide adequate resources, especially funding.”

“The McGill Administration so far has shown little urgency in dealing with sexual violence - including sexual assault - on its campus,” she wrote.

She added that from the perspective of the Working Group, the Star’s investigation did not affect the administration’s approach to developing a sexual assault policy.

While the administration encouraged the Working Group to draft a proposal for the policy, she says they’re now “dragging their heels on having anything of the sort passed through Senate.”

“While the Administration is quick to denounce sexual violence and is constantly touting the development of this Policy as evidence of progress, their resistance to move forward with our draft has undermined this purported commitment to developing a safe campus.”

The Policy

McGill’s Dean of Students André Costopoulos says policies like a sexual assault policy always take more time than students — or he — would like.

“It is taking a while. There’s no doubt about it,” he said in an interview with The Journal on March 1.

He said he and Associate Provost (Policies, Processes and Equity) Angela Campbell have met with SAP on several occasions over “the last 18 months or so”.

His next task will be reviewing the final draft of the policy, which SAP released on Feb. 17.

“I was hoping to give them some feedback this week, but it looks like that’s going to have to go to next week. After that, it really depends on consultation with other stakeholders.”

On top of consulting with student groups, he says, the policy will need feedback from other groups, including faculty societies, human resources, and legal groups.

He said he understands that student executives — whose terms are usually a year — see the policy’s creation as drawn-out and slow.

“It’s good that students are there to push. They have these shorter time horizons because they keep us on our toes and they keep us moving,” he said.

“From the point of view of a dean, whose term is five years, my sense is if I can accomplish something in five years, I’m doing really well.”

Downoad the Policy here.

View the full policy here.


Queen's University

The Assaults

“He took off his clothes. He wouldn’t leave my room. I told him over and over to leave my room.”

On Oct. 8, 2014, six weeks before the Toronto Star investigation, this student account of an assault was the opening line of the investigative piece on sexual assault on campus published by The Journal.

The project revealed stories of students raped in their own residence rooms and discovered that the number of assaults reported on campus were not even close to the number that were likely occurring.

The highest number of sexual assaults reported since 1998 was four, with many years having seen only one sexual assault reported. It also found that Health, Counselling and Disability Services, now Student Wellness Services, tracked reports in paper files rather than a database, which made it almost impossible to track the number of sexual assaults reported to the service.

More importantly, The Journal noted a glaring lack of a sexual assault policy at Queen’s.

The policy in place — a harassment and discrimination complaint policy — hadn’t been updated since 2000. Queen’s had no official disciplinary body for handling sexual assault cases.

Instead, cases were filed through the Human Rights Office (HRO) under the harassment and discrimination policy. Criminal offenses, however, were outside of the mandate of the HRO.

For each formal sexual harassment complaints received, Queen’s would theoretically create an ad hoc Complaint Board, where potential sanctions included a formal reprimand, a public report of the findings, suspension, dismissal or expulsion from the University.

No such Complaint Boards had been formed to deal with cases involving sexual assault, at least to the knowledge of sexual harassment prevention coordinator Margot Coulter.

The Journal later wrote an editorial stating that the University had failed sexual assault survivors by failing to implement a university-wide policy. The administration’s response to The Journal came via a letter to the editor from Principal Daniel Woolf. In the letter, Woolf wrote that The Journal hadn’t take the personal and sensitive needs of survivors into account.

However, when information about campus assaults was published in the Toronto Star weeks later, the administration sprung to action.

Aftermath of the Investigation

On the day of the Toronto Star investigation, Principal Woolf issued a statement saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the treatment of sexual violence survivors at Queen’s.

Although the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group (SAPRWG) had existed since June 2013, he said, he directed the group to expedite its recommendations in response.

Five days later, Woolf released a video statement stating that it was clear that “we have to do more,” followed two days later with a promise to begin work on a sexual assault policy.

An interim protocol was released on Jan. 16, 2015 with a press release in the Queen’s Gazette that stated that an official policy was expected by April 30, 2015.

More than a year later, a final policy has not yet been implemented at Queen’s.

The Policy

Following the release of the interim protocol, SAPRWG held four open consultations regarding policy and procedures, support and response, prevention efforts and environment.

The final SAPRWG report and recommendations were submitted to Principal Woolf on April 30, and were released publicly a month later on June 1 along with the first draft of an official policy. The report identified 34 recommendations based on 11 strategic objectives, which addressed sexual violence on campus.

A month later, an implementation team was established to oversee and prioritize the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

On Dec. 1, 2015, after months of silence, the University announced the creation of a new Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator position. In an interview with The Journal in December, Provost Alan Harrison said they’d hoped to be further ahead in the policy process, but their timeline was stretched due to the need to align the new policy with developing provincial standards.

After the University released an updated draft on Dec. 3, it opened a two-month feedback period for individuals to comment on the proposed policy. An official Sexual Violence Policy will be up for approval at the Queen’s Board of Trustees’ upcoming March 4 Board Meeting.

An official Sexual Violence Policy will be up for approval at The Queen’s Board of Trustee’s upcoming March 4 Board Meeting .

When contacted in advance of the meeting, Provost Alan Harrison said that while they don’t yet have the final version of the provincial legislation on sexual assault or accompanying regulations, they intend to proceed with voting to approve the policy.

“Depending on the final version of the legislation and accompanying regulations, modifications to our policy may be necessary, but we wanted to move forward, given our commitment to this issue,” he wrote.

The meeting is set to take place in 340 Richardson Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4.

Downoad the Policy here.


The Assaults

In September 2012, the academic year had only begun. Classes were settling into their curriculum and new students were getting the hang of the campus.

As the month drew to a close, however, Ryerson was rocked by reports of five sexual assaults on or near its campus. The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) held two emergency community meetings and media attention focused on the Toronto campus.

The following month, Ryerson Security and Emergency Services announced that Security Watch emails would be sent to all student accounts with incident reports attached.

The conversation on sexual violence continued intermittently. The RSU adopted a policy that the organization reject any group, meeting or event that promotes “misogynistic views towards women” or “justifies sexual assault” in early March 2013.

However, the administration didn’t actively participate until the Toronto Star investigation the following November, which singled out Ryerson among five other universities for its lack of a policy.

Aftermath of the Investigation

While the Toronto Star released their investigation in November, the University didn’t take any major steps to address the issue until February 2015, according a timeline published this month by Ryerson’s student newspaper, The Ryerson Eyeopener.

On Feb. 3, the University announced that Vice-Provost Students Heather Lane Vetere was set to attend a conference to discuss sexual assault policies in Ontario post-secondary institutions.

Two days later, Ryerson’s Continuing Education Students’ Association (CESAR) held a round-table discussion about a potential sexual assault policy.

Less than 24 hours after the meeting, a CBC News investigation revealed that Ryerson had the highest number of reported sexual assaults on a Canadian campus between 2009 and 2013 at 57.

For Ryerson, however, a large number of reported sexual assaults was promising: it meant that while a policy was direly needed, existing resources for reporting a sexual assault were functional. It also indicated that Ryerson encouraged students to come forward to report incidents and had a good way to keep track of reported assaults, according to experts consulted by the CBC.

The Policy

Ryerson’s policy was modeled to work alongside the Ontario government’s three-year action plan on sexual violence and harassment, “It’s Never Okay” released in March 2015.

The action plan mandates that each university and college adopt a sexual assault policy. Among the six major schools named in the Toronto Star, however, Ryerson is one of the two that’s since implemented an official policy. The university did so on June 26, 2015.

The other, York University, has since been the subject of a heated Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint for its alleged discrimination against survivors of sexual assault.

Ryerson’s policy was approved by the Board of Governors, Vice-Provost Students Heather Lane Vetere and the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.

The policy addresses survivor support, awareness, education, training and prevention programs and the appropriate handling of reports/complaints of incidents of sexual violence.

In October 2015, the University implemented its first coordinator of sexual violence education and support, Farrah Khan. When asked about the history of sexual assault policies at Ryerson by The Journal, however, Ryerson communications representative Johanna VanderMaas said Khan was unable to comment.

Read the policy here.


University of British Columbia

The Assaults

At least six women filed sexual violence reports against the same UBC student: Dmitry Mordvinov. The reported acts ranged from inappropriate touching to assault and date back to 2013.

However, the University of British Columbia (UBC) took over a year and a half to act against Mordvinov, quietly expelling him only when the information broke in the media in November 2015.

Most shocking were the allegations that surfaced in a the fifth estate investigation conducted by the CBC: that survivors of Mordvinov’s violence had been asked by the UBC Equity Office to keep quiet.

Aftermath of the Investigation

The 2015 the fifth estate and CBC reports had a much larger impact on UBC than the 2014 Toronto Star article, according to news editors at UBC’s student newspaper The Ubyssey.

News editors Emma Partridge and Moira Warburton said the 2015 assault allegations opened the floodgates for demands for a sexual violence policy.

“We know they’d been formulating [a policy], but we don’t know when it would have happened if the process — to our understanding — wasn’t expedited in response,” they said in an interview.

Both editors said when they took on their positions at The Ubyssey this year, they were called to meet Janet Teasdale, the managing director of student development and services.

They said while Teasdale said the meeting would be to discuss how to properly cover sexual assaults, she mostly asked them not to file Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

“They’ve been trying to control the narrative a bit, but there’s only so many accusations we can make about that, because you can’t reveal the privacy of survivors,” they said.

The two said the way the reported assaults were handled, unfortunately, was not surprising.

“UBC has kind of had a screw loose last term, and this whole year actually ... I think people would have been more surprised if there wasn’t already this extreme lack of faith in the university.”

The Policy

Since the allegations in November 2015, the creation of a sexual assault policy has been high-profile on the UBC campus. However, a drafted policy has yet to emerge.

According to Sara-Jane Finlay, associate vice-president of equity & inclusion, the University is working on the first draft to be delivered to the Board of Governors in October.

“We have a duty and an obligation to ensure people who come forward with a complaint feel duly heard and that the reporting options are clearly understood,” she wrote in an email to The Journal on March 1.

“UBC is developing a sexual assault policy that will further clarify the process when a student brings forward a complaint of sexual assault.”

She added that UBC has been running several other initiatives, such as bystander intervention training and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in the interim.

After The Journal inquired about support for survivors, Finlay provided a web-link to the UBC sexual assault resource site.

The first policy draft is expected to reach the UBC Board of Governors in June 2016, with the final policy submitted to the Board in October.


University of Toronto

The Assaults

During the 2013-14 school year, a young woman at the University of Toronto shared a drink with a classmate. Soon after, she went in and out of consciousness.

When she came to, she told the CBC, the classmate was having sex with her. Her story was publicized in a February 2015 CBC report.

The student said she didn’t press charges to avoid telling her family what happened, but instead went to the U of T administration to help avoid her attacker in the classroom.

According to the student, the counsellor she met simply said “if you don't show up to [your shared] class, then he wins.” The counsellor’s only offer was to delay her exams.

With the student’s permission, CBC News took the concern to the University of Toronto administration, who quickly promised to investigate the incident.

It wasn’t U of T’s first timely response to a sexual assault crisis. Their response to the Toronto Star investigation on their lack of a sexual assault policy took a mere eight days.

However, 15 months later the University is just beginning to draft a policy.

Aftermath of the Investigation

Eight days after the Toronto Star investigation, U of T struck an Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence.

An announcement letter from Angela Hildyard, vice-president (human resources and equity) and Jill Matus, vice-provost (students), stated that the committee was struck in response to “recent attention to the issue of sexual violence”.

The group, however, didn’t hold its first meeting until February 2015.

In January 2015, a student group called “Stop Sexual Violence U of T” launched a petition for a more rigorous effort to create a policy.

In their petition, the coalition noted that the committee lacked representation from affected groups — specifically, U of T students.

The petition requested several changes, including a new committee selection process, increased feedback options for policy, improved resources and support services, and a review of U of T’s policies and procedures.

After the petition gained attention, U of T’s student newspaper, The Varsity, reported that the administration had assured students that they would have the chance to provide their input for the creation of a sexual assault policy.

On May 29, 2015, the University released a Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Questionnaire to inform the work of the committee. The questionnaire focused on students’ understanding of different types of sexual violence.

However, the survey did not request feedback regarding the quality of the University’s response system and services, The Varsity reported in June.

The Policy

On Feb. 8, 2016, the Committee published a final report of recommendations 15 months after the committee was assembled. One of their long-researched recommendations: create a sexual assault policy.

Other recommendations included increasing and communicating the supports available and increasing university-wide education and training.

The Journal requested to speak to the U of T administration about the development of a sexual assault policy, but U of T media relations declined to provide comment.

An email from the University’s media relations department on March 1 stated that the request had been denied due to “the volume of media requests we receive” and that their media policy barred campus papers outside of The Varsity from making requests.

The Journal spoke with The Varsity’s News Editor, Iris Robin, who said that in the wake of the report an important part will be creating an accessible policy that outlines how to file a report.

Robin said one of the most frequent comments heard in Varsity interviews with students is that navigating the University of Toronto bureaucracy is “a challenge in itself”.

"Having paperwork and guidelines is important for the institution to function, but the issue of support services and referral services remains paramount,” Robin said.

“It is still the case that U of T has one assault counsellor for its three campuses and I hope that if the recommendations are implemented successfully, this will change."

U of T has not yet provided a date or timeline for the implementation of a standalone sexual assault policy.



The Assaults

For Mandi Gray, a PhD student at York, her nightmare began on Jan. 30 2015. She reported a sexual assault nearly one month before York’s new sexual assault policy was announced.

For Gray, the Feb. 23 policy announcement was not a saving grace.

Gray says that when she sought help after being raped, she had to disclose her assault to 15 people at York University in order to find information about how she could receive assistance from the University.

Gray also said that in the aftermath of being assaulted, the University expected her to meet with a male counsellor alone in a closed office after she had been raped by someone she trusted.

Her complaint states that she felt unable to access adequate help from York University Security Services and that her call to the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Support Line (SASSL) went unanswered. Counselling services offered a referral to a centre off-campus and denied a request for emergency counselling over the phone, she said.

In the following weeks, Gray resigned as a teaching assistant and dropped a class to avoid her attacker on campus. She eventually left the school on Feb. 20, although she continued to pay tuition.

Months later, she emerged in a prominent case against York through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where she alleged that the University had failed her as a survivor through their discriminatory policies.

Aftermath of the Investigation

When the Toronto Star investigation was released in November 2014, York was already in the process of drafting their sexual violence policy following the results of a campus safety audit.

The audit was a response to an earlier attack.

One morning in September 2007, two former York students walked into a residence. The former students prowled from floor to floor, raping and assaulting two women and attempting to attack a third student. Daniel Katsnelson, one of the men, received an eight-year prison sentence in 2008, while his accomplice Justin Connort was sentenced to three years in prison.

Following the attack, a working group was assigned to develop policies on sexual assault awareness, prevention and response, as along with disciplinary procedures.

The Policy

The policy was comprised of three elements: the tangible sexual violence policy and procedures, pan-university prevention and response efforts and an active bystander program.

The drafting was done in four stages, starting with a commitment from the University and communication about how sexual violence would be handled moving forward.

From there, a sexual violence/assault policy working group was compiled, the current landscape of the university was assessed and a draft policy and procedures were developed.

Work on the policy formally began in December 2013 and was intended to be finalized in fall 2014. However, it wasn’t approved until Feb. 23, 2015.

However, the Mandi Gray case revealed that York has no obligation under their new policy to employ female security officials to handle cases such as reports of sexual violence.

Gray’s complaint alleges discrimination by York against women on more than a dozen counts, including equating sexual violence to other student violations like plagiarism.

When contacted by The Journal, York’s Director of Media Relations Janice Walls said that the University is in the process of updating their procedures, but that the policy is in place.

“[The policy] was developed by a working group of students, faculty and staff – the Sexual Violence Assault Policy Working Group – which consulted with survivors and many other groups,” she wrote in an email.

“As you may know, universities are awaiting final passage of the Province’s Bill 132, and the release of related regulations, which will impact policies and procedures at colleges and universities in Ontario.”

She added that the working group at York has been reviewing all existing policies and procedures related to sexual violence as they wait for the regulations.

Regarding the Human Rights case, Walls wrote that, “since York University is currently in legal proceedings with Ms. Gray (she has filed a complaint against York with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario), we are not in a position to publicly discuss her case.”

Downoad the Policy here.

This story was the product of shared information between several Canadian student-newspapers, where writers have tirelessly reported these stories as they develop.

The Journal is grateful especially to Emma Partridge and Moira Warburton (The Ubyssey), Cem Ertekin (The McGill Daily), Iris Robin (The Varsity) and Keith Capstick, Al Downham and Nicole Schmidt (The Eyeopener).