Does SSMU need a sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy?

Con­cerns raised over the po­ten­tial ef­fec­tive­ness of such a pol­icy

The McGill Daily - - News - Xavier Richer Vis —SSMU rep­re­sen­ta­tives and leg­isla­tive coun­cil­lors —SSMU rep­re­sen­ta­tives and leg­isla­tive coun­cil­lors —Elaine Pat­ter­son VP Stu­dent Life

A SSMU Sex­ual As­sault Pol­icy would, in the­ory, give ud­er­grad­u­ates at the Univer­sity more re­course in hold­ing their elected of­fi­cials ac­count­able. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­count­able to ev­ery one of its stu­dents and shoul­ders the bur­den or fhte re­spon­si­bil­ity to take ac­tion.” “The si­lence from the Ad­min­is­tra­tion through­out this process is alarm­ing.” “There have been con­ver­sa­tions amongst the SSMU ex­ec­u­tives re­gard­ing a pol­icy and a set of pro­to­cols that can be put in place in or­der to cre­ate a struc­ture to bet­ter man­age re­ports of dis­clo­sure of sex­ual ha­rass­ment to an exec.” “[The] Mcgill Ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­stantly used the SVP to make a show of its sup­poed com­mit­ment to re­spond­ing to sex­ual vi­o­lence.”

Con­tent warn­ing: sex­ual as­sault, do­mes­tic abuse

The re­cent res­ig­na­tions of two Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) ex­ec­u­tives – for­mer Pres­i­dent Ben Ger and for­mer VP Ex­ter­nal David Aird – over al­le­ga­tions of gen­dered vi­o­lence have sparked in­tense crit­i­cism of SSMU’S nom­i­nal com­mit­ment to trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity. More­over, many are call­ing for the So­ci­ety to adopt a sex­ual as­sault pol­icy ( SAP) which would ap­ply to its Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee.

While the Univer­sity did re­cently adopt its own Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Pol­icy (SVP), which ap­plies to all stu­dents reg­is­tered at McGill, a SSMU SAP would in the­ory give un­der­grad­u­ates at the Univer­sity more re­course in hold­ing their elected of­fi­cials ac­count­able.

The SVP can­not be used to sus­pend or re­move SSMU ex­ec­u­tives from their po­si­tions. This means that if any fu­ture ex­ec­u­tive were to be ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault, SSMU mem­bers would have to wait for the Univer­sity to take ac­tion against that ex­ec­u­tive as an in­di­vid­ual - some­thing Mcgill has his­tor­i­cally been re­luc­tant to do.

A SSMU SAP, or or more ad­min­is­tra­tion in­volve­ment?

Nev­er­the­less, many stu­dents have ar­gued that it should be Mcgill’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, rather than SSMU, which takes a larger role in coun­ter­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence on cam­pus.

In a let­ter pub­lished on March 2, 2017 in The Mcgill Daily, 18 SSMU rep­re­sen­ta­tives, all of whom sit on the So­ci­ety’s Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil, ad­dressed Mcgill’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. The let­ter rec­og­nized the “in­suf­fi­ciency of the SSMU ex­ec­u­tive team in the han­dling of their re­sponse,” but felt that this didn’t ex­cuse the Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s si­lence on the mat­ter.

“The prob­lem of sex­ual vi­o­lence is not lim­ited to the SSMU,” reads the let­ter. “It af­fects ev­ery­one on cam­pus, es­pe­cially those sur­vivors that have come forth. Prin­ci­pal Fortier, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­count­able to ev­ery one of its stu­dents and shoul­ders the bur­den of the re­spon­si­bil­ity to take ac­tion. The si­lence from the Ad­min­is­tra­tion through­out this process is alarm­ing.”

The let­ter called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to col­lab­o­rate with SSMU to “to em­pha­size sec­tion 8 of the sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy and push the ac­tive work­ing group to hold work­shops and pre­sen­ta­tions con­cern­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence at Mcgill res­i­dences and cam­pus as a whole for the re­main­der of the se­mes­ter.”

The let­ter also called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to fol­low and adopt the CDN’S de­mands, and “to take di­rect mea­sures to en­sure the con­tin­ued safety of stu­dents and sur­vivors on and around cam­pus.” Mea­sures listed in­cluded timely dis­clo­sures, safety plan­ning, sec­tion changes. Most im­por­tantly the let­ter called for “screen­ing of [SSMU] ex­ec­u­tives.” Nowhere in the let­ter is there a call for SSMU to adopt its own SAP to counter its own short­com­ings.

Hence, a large part of the de­bate over a SSMU SAP re­volves around how much in­de­pen­dence SSMU and its mem­bers should have in reg­u­lat­ing its own Ex- ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, and when the Univer­sity’s ad­min­is­tra­tion should step in.

The Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee talks a SSMU- spe­cific SAP

VP Stu­dent Life Elaine Pat­ter­son, who has taken on the role of SSMU spokesper­son fol­low­ing Ger’s res­ig­na­tion, told The Daily in an email that there “have been con­ver­sa­tions amongst the SSMU ex­ec­u­tives re­gard­ing a pol­icy and a set of pro­to­cols that can be put in place in or­der to cre­ate a struc­ture to bet­ter man­age re­ports of dis­clo­sure of sex­ual ha­rass­ment to an exec.”

“In terms of first steps,” she added, “we hope to or­ga­nize a time for the cur­rent ex­ec­u­tives and the [newly elected SSMU] ex­ec­u­tives to at­tend a work­shop on re­ports of dis­clo­sure of­fered by Con­sent Mcgill. Ad­di­tion­ally, [VP Univer­sity Af­fairs] Erin So­bat is in touch with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Com­mu­nity Dis­clo­sure Net­work (CDN) to en­sure con­sul­ta­tion while this pol­icy and these pro­to­cols are in de­vel­op­ment.”

In a state­ment to The Daily, So­bat spoke about the process of cre­at­ing such a pol­icy.

“By their re­quest I am work­ing [...] to help meet the re­quests in [the CDN’S] state­ment, re: sex­ual vi­o­lence in gen­eral not just ha­rass­ment,” he ex­plained. “How­ever this is re­ally [...] labour of pol­icy/pro­to­col de­vel­op­ment based on con­sul­ta­tion and out­reach to dif­fer­ent groups and over­sight from our gov­er­nance bod­ies.”

“We are look­ing into the best ways to fa­cil­i­tate sen­si­tive con­sul­ta­tion and di­a­logue on mov­ing for­ward, through CDN and staff re­sources,” he added. “We rec­og­nize that peo­ple do not nec­es­sar­ily feel com­fort­able reach­ing out to the ex­ec­u­tive right now and that there need to be mul­ti­ple av­enues for in­volve­ment and in­put.”

“Well in­ten­tioned but dan­ger­ously half-baked”

While many on cam­pus have called for such a pol­icy, some stu­dents feel that this sim­ply isn’t enough.

Si­lence is Vi­o­lence (SIV), a sur­vivor-led col­lec­tive of com­mu­nity mem­bers at Mcgill which “ad­vo­cate for in­sti­tu­tional ac­count­abil­ity and tackle rape cul­ture on cam­pus” re­leased a state­ment last Thurs­day de­tail­ing their thoughts on a hy­po­thet­i­cal SSMU SAP.

While the col­lec­tive ex­pressed out­rage at Ger and Aird’s be­hav­iour, and un­der­stood the calls to ac­tion, they ex­pressed con­cerns that calls for a SSMU- spe­cific SAP are “short- sighted, nar­row and lack ad­e­quate con­text.”

“Since the adop­tion of SVP last win­ter, and, in­deed, in the past few years when a SVP has been un­der de­vel­op­ment at Mcgill, [the] Mcgill Ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­stantly used the SVP to make a show of its sup­posed com­mit­ment to re­spond­ing to sex­ual vi­o­lence - and shut down any crit­i­cism of its short­com­ings in that re­gard,” reads the state­ment.

“While a pol­icy can in­deed pro­vide struc­ture for ad­dress­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence,” the state­ment con­tin­ues, “call­ing for the cre­ation of a pol­icy with­out holis­ti­cally con­fronting - in this case - the dy­nam­ics that en­cour­age, sus­tain and tol­er­ate abuse in ac­tivist com­mu­ni­ties is a cheap way out of as­sum­ing li­a­bil­ity for past in­ci­dents and com­mit­ting to their pre­ven­tion in the fu­ture.”

SIV also raised con­cerns about whether or not this meant that clubs, fac­ulty and de­part­men­tal as­so­ci­a­tions, and other groups on cam­pus would them­selves also adopt a sex­ual as­sault pol­icy of their own.

“How much time and re­sources would that take?” SIV wrote. “How many sex­ual as­sault poli­cies does this in­sti­tu­tion need?”

SIV stated that, in­stead, they felt Mcgill would “ben­e­fit more from a cam­pus-wide ini­tia­tive to use al­ready ex­ist­ing struc­tures to ex­tend the SVP to all other sep­a­rate le­gal en­ti­ties at Mcgill.”

The col­lec­tive cited the Of­fice of the Dean of Stu­dents sign­ing a Me­moran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (MOU) with the Man­age­ment Un­der­grad­u­ate So­ci­ety to ex­tend the Code of Stu­dents’ Con­duct and a va­ri­ety of other forms of over­sights to Car­ni­val, an event which in­volved heavy drink­ing. “Par­tic­i­pants would hence be sub­ject to this Code in case they cross the line,” the state­ment reads.

—state­ment from Si­lence is Vi­o­lence Mcgill

At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, the Sex­ual As­sault Cen­tre of the Mcgill Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety (SACOMSS) had yet to sit down with SSMU ex­ec­u­tives to dis­cuss the So­ci­ety adopt­ing a sex­ual as­sault pol­icy, and hence were not com­fort­able speak­ing with The Daily about their rec­om­men­da­tions on the sub­ject.

More­over, the CDN has yet to re­spond to The Daily’s re­quest for com­ment.

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