The British Columbia government is studying whether the province's 25 postsecondary institutions need one set of policies to deal with sexual harassment and assault in the wake of allegations the University of British Columbia didn't appropriately respond to complaints of assault and harassment, says the advanced-education minister.
"This has been a work in progress and this issue has come up across Canada. … We are in the learning phase on this and incrementally asking institutions to ensure that they have suitable policies in place," Andrew Wilkinson, the Minister of Advanced Education, said in an interview.
On Sunday, graduate students in UBC's history department reiterated allegations detailed in an episode of the CBC's the fifth estate to air Monday. They denounced the response of the university administration, suggesting it was aware of sexually aggressive behaviour by a graduate history student, but was slow to act.
Caitlyn Cunningham, who graduated in November, 2014, alleged she was assaulted off-campus by the student in April, 2013, and reported the incident to the university in June, 2014, only to see her concerns get bogged down. The student was expelled earlier this month.
At a news conference at the student-union building at UBC, student Glynnis Kirchmeier said she is working on a complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after 22 months of dealing with four university offices on the situation.
She said she is fine-tuning the complaint with her lawyer and hopes it will include the views of others dissatisfied with the university's handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. Ms. Kirchmeier said she hopes to file the complaint by year's end.
"UBC's chance to do the right thing is over. Clearly they have zero interest in the safety of women. Now the lights are turned on and the university is going to be tried in the court of public opinion and then it is going to answer to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and I suspect it will be tried in civil court as well," she said. "UBC did this to itself."
Kaitlin Russell, another student at the news conference, said UBC needs a sexual assault response team for students in distress that would be available for consultation on a 24-hour basis.
On the weekend, the university apologized for how it handled the allegations. The "process took too long," said interim president Martha Piper in a statement released online. "Due process can be frustrating and time-consuming. However, the university reached an appropriate conclusion," she said.
Canadian provinces are increasingly turning to legislation to force universities and colleges to adopt specific policies on assault and harassment. In October, the Ontario government introduced a bill that would require every postsecondary institution to have such procedures in place. Last week, Manitoba introduced a similar bill, which would also ask universities to report statistics collected under assault or harassment policies.
Some say that such policies not only help victims but can raise awareness and possibly prevent or arrest issues quickly.
"It's not ever too late to do the right thing but why were appropriate processes not put in place before these allegations," said Kathy Corrigan, the NDP critic for advanced education.
The United States, however, has had a mixed experience with campus-based assault and harassment policies. As a result of federal requirements to prevent sexual discrimination, many colleges and universities deal with allegations through campus procedures rather than by calling in police. But that, as critics have said, can leave a perpetrator to assault again.