The B.C. government has introduced a bill that will require every public postsecondary institution to develop a sexual-misconduct policy, a move that comes amid heightened concerns about the safety of young women on campus.
The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act will require institutions to establish policies within one year of the bill receiving Royal Assent. The legislation tabled by the B.C. Liberals on Wednesday builds on a private member's bill that was introduced by B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver last month.
Premier Christy Clark said the bill will ensure postsecondary institutions have a clear policy when it comes to combatting sexual violence.
"The idea is to make sure that every young person on campus, in particular young women who may be the victims of sexual assault, know that they can report it, that they will be safe if they report it, and that they will get the assistance that they're requesting when they report it," Ms. Clark said at a news conference in the legislature rose garden, where she was joined by Mr. Weaver. "Because the thing about rape and sexual violence is that silence is the best friend of any rapist. And shame is their second best friend."
B.C. postsecondary institutions are not currently required to have policies for sexual misconduct. The bill lists sexual assault, sexual harassment and voyeurism as examples of sexual misconduct.
Ms. Clark announced plans to introduce such legislation as the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria both faced complaints about how they handled allegations of sexual assault. A former student from UBC recently filed a human-rights complaint.
Mr. Weaver said the legislation makes clear that acts of sexual violence against students will not be tolerated. His bill was modelled after similar legislation in Ontario.
Kenya Rogers, director of external relations at the University of Victoria Students' Society, said she was at the legislature Wednesday and was very pleased to see the bill introduced.
"The main thing that we really wanted out of this bill was that institutions were legally bound to developing policies that protect and support survivors," she said in an interview. "Ultimately, you look at this policy act and that's what we've gotten."
Ms. Rogers said postsecondary institutions throughout British Columbia have struggled with how to respond to instances of misconduct without a clear framework.
"I think the development of policy like this is going to help students feel like they're not only safe to come forward, but that going forward and disclosing is something that's going to result in them being supported by the institution," she said.
Valerie Kuehne, the University of Victoria's vice-president academic and provost, in an interview said the university is looking forward to working with the province on this issue. She said the university has already initiated a review of its current policies and procedures when it comes to sexual violence, and a working group is being established to look at areas such as prevention, education and support for survivors.
Martha Piper, the University of British Columbia's interim president, in a statement said the legislation will "underpin work already under way at UBC to create a specific sexual-assault policy in collaboration with students, faculty and other members of our community to ensure we are supporting survivors of sexual assault."
Ms. Piper has said the panel tasked with drafting the school's policy will also look at what she described as the complicated issue of relationships between faculty members and students.
A Simon Fraser University spokesperson said the school will be reviewing the new legislation in the coming weeks. The spokesperson said sexual violence "is never acceptable and the university is deeply committed to providing members of our community with a safe, supportive and respectful environment in which to live, learn and work."