University

Sexual harassment: universities should disclose sanctions towards abusers

From today, universities will no longer be able to hide behind the law to keep victims of sexual violence in the dark about the sanctions against their perpetrators.

Véronique Pronovost, PhD student in sociology at UQAM, says: “It’s reassuring to see that when we come together as a team, we can solve our problems.

He is one of several students who successfully convinced parliamentarians to pass the legislative change that comes into force today.

Until now, students who complained about misconduct, harassment or sexual harassment by a professor or another student had no right to know whether the institution decided to take action.

Ms. Pronovost is well aware that she has filed a complaint against a professor at her university in the past. He never knew how the story of his complaint ended.

“Abnormal”

Indeed, the Privacy and Personal Information Act prohibits any employer from releasing information from an employee’s file, even in cases of sexual harassment.

“I found it absurd,” said Martin Ouellet, PQ deputy for René-Lévesque in the North Coast, who debated the proposed amendment in the National Assembly in February 2021.

After the elected officials “collegiality” case, the privacy law was changed so that the law on sexual harassment on campuses could also be changed.

At the request of the complainant, the institution may disclose whether or not the person concerned has been punished and how it was punished.

“This is a big step to help victims come out of the shadows and restore confidence in the complaints process,” Mr Ouellet said.

not far enough

But for the students behind the reform, the change doesn’t go far enough in the transparency required.

For example, a lecturer can still bully female students at one university, be fired, and then start again at another university.

Alexandra Dupuy herself was a student representative on the committee responsible for evaluating policies related to the prevention of sexual violence at UQAM.

He and his colleagues had no right to know what sanctions were given to the teachers. This will not change even after the reform, he complains.

Thus, no one but the administration has general information about the sanctions imposed, their sequence or relevance.

“The most unusual thing for me is the lack of leadership of the universities. They haven’t done anything to change the law,” says Véronique Pronovost.

The students managed to change it. “But it shouldn’t be our business. Our job is to learn and do research,” he concluded.

Two classes of victims

“It’s definitely a good thing we’re taking care of [ce sujet-là]. But the devil is in the details,” says Finn Makela, professor of labor law at the University of Sherbrooke.

In particular, he notes that the reform creates “two classes of victims.” He explains that a victim of psychological harassment at a university will have no more right than before to know the sanctions applied to him because he does not have sexual dimensions.

In addition, it is not impossible to challenge the reform in court under the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Mr. Makela believes.

To be aware, but to be silent

Universities and CEGEPs could require complainants to remain silent before disclosing sanctions against a professor, a scenario many students fear.

A plaintiff who decides to publicize the sanctions against her abuser “may expose herself” […] to court proceedings”, we can read in the document prepared by the Ministry of Higher Education regarding the reform that came into force today.

CEGEPs and universities are likely to require complainants who wish to exercise their right to receive new information to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to avoid reputational damage or prosecution.

“I would not be surprised by them [les institutions] do everything,” admits Finn Makela, professor of labor law at the University of Sherbrooke.

Word or complaint?

“We still come to create a system of silence around the complainant,” concludes Véronique Pronovost.

In fact, some universities already require a confidentiality agreement to be signed before filing a complaint.

It has been reported Press In an article about the case of former professor Samuel Archibald, whom UQAM accused of “serious acts” of a sexual nature.

“This is unacceptable,” said an angry Alexandra Dupuy, who has heard several examples of such agreements.

Very big

“These are very broad confidentiality agreements. I think it’s too broad,” said Michael Lessard, a member of the Barreau du Québec and a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.

He cites the example of a student who, after signing, may believe he has no right to talk to a psychologist or the police about his experience in order to report the offender.

At the time of publication last night, UQAM had not responded to our questions.

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