Sexual violence is a serious problem in Quebec, and the limited data collected on the subject each year clearly demonstrates the seriousness of this issue. Unfortunately, universities are no exception. Like many other social environments, universities reproduce the same dynamics and norms found throughout Quebec society. University campuses are also characterized as being more or less closed social environments, with all of the attendant advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that the respect of certain baseline norms can sometimes be more easily ensured by the social actors composing it. It’s also easier to observe, quantify, analyze, and control these norms.
It is critical that we change the culture in our institutions of higher education to minimize negative repercussions on the survivors of sexual violence and on their studies. The former Minister of Higher Education, Hélène David, launched a major consultation in 2016 on preventing and fighting sexual violence. Representatives from Quebec’s colleges and universities came forward to participate in this process, including university administrators, student associations, labour unions, and community organizations. During those consultations, the Quebec Student Union (QSU) presented a brief outlining its priorities and proposing important elements that should be included in an eventual framework law to ensure its relevance and effectiveness for university students.
In August 2017, Minister David tabled the 2017-2022 Intervention Strategy for Preventing and Countering Sexual Violence in Higher Education. This relatively general strategy took into account individuals’ specific needs and proposed actions under the following themes:
- Awareness, prevention, and knowledge development;
- Handling of disclosures and complaints;
In December 2017, Bill 151, An Act to Prevent and Fight Sexual Violence in Higher Education Institutions, was finally adopted by Quebec’s National Assembly. The Act requires each university to adopt a standalone policy that ensures its working and studying environments are safe, secure, and respectful.
The QSU created a Guide for Student Associations to help prepare them for their role in developing these new policies, which had to be completed by January 2019. The guide was intended to make sure student associations had all the information they needed to negotiate with their university’s administration and defend the interests of their members. It also covers the new responsibilities given to universities under the Act, which must be reflected in the policies adopted by university establishments in Quebec.