In 2017, many Canadian universities began to respond to calls from student groups and political leaders for a reassessment of how universities approach sexual violence on campus. Throughout that year, policies around sexual violence came into effect at many universities, including those in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Mandated by legislation or a ministerial directive, work to address these policies began or continued in Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Quebec. Many other universities across the country have begun to address their sexual violence policies voluntarily and some have completed revision projects.

Students enrolled in Prof. Karen Busby’s seminar course will prepare memoranda on university sexual violence policies and make class presentations on a discrete aspect of sexual violence policies. These research memoranda will be compiled into recommendations to the University of Manitoba as part of its consultation on building its own sexual violence policy.

Busby discussed key attributes of university sexual violence policies on Sept. 19, and addressed the problems associated with implementing such policies. She explained the legal concept of procedural fairness and how it applies to universities when handling sexual violence complaints.

Busby said complainants have two options: disclosure or reporting. When someone makes a disclosure, the focus is on the rights and needs of the complainant. They maintain a lot of power over what happens but no formal investigation is done. Reporting is the disciplinary pathway and focuses on the respondent’s conduct, allowing for potential consequences such as dismissal or firing.

Busby speculated that some complainants are looking for an apology rather than to hold respondents accountable for their actions. Other potential reasons for coming forward discussed in the seminar: preventing future harm, obtaining support and/or accommodations, and to address personal safety concerns. Processes put in place by post-secondary institution policies are often able to address the issues listed above. Their main focus is prevention and to provide support.

The legal concept of procedural fairness applies when a complaint is reported and the university decides to take steps to address it. Procedural fairness is concerned with the rights of the respondent. These may include a right to notice of a complaint, disclosure of the complaint’s nature, and, if a hearing is called, the right to cross-examination and counsel, reasons for any decision and the right to appeal any decision.

Busby discussed university reporting on sexual violence data. The disclosure of identifiable information about either complainants or respondents is not allowed due to privacy concerns and laws. Therefore, it is difficult to gather information and share it with those who have a vested interest in the outcomes of investigations, such as complainants and the broader campus community. She said universities could revise current policies to allow for greater transparency.


Listen to podcasts from seminars in this series.