HOW TO DEFEND INTERNAL SEXUAL ASSAULT INVESTIGATIONS
In 2018 the Ontario government released a report on sexual violence on college campuses called the 2018 Student Voice of Sexual Violence Survey. The report showed that over 50% of students on college and university campuses in Ontario had experienced some form of sexual violence on campus. As a result, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities implemented a province wide policy to help colleges and universities address the issue of sexual violence on campus.
This new initiative to combat sexual violence includes a list of actions to be taken immediately by both the Ontario government and colleges and universities across the province. These actions include; requiring every publicly assisted college/university to make an annual report to its board of governors outlining the various measures the institution has taken to combat sexual violence and support survivors, doubling the governments investment in the Women’s Safety Grant in 2018/2019 in order to assist colleges and universities in combating sexual violence on campus, requiring every publicly funded college or university in Ontario to create and maintain a diverse, student involved task force on combating and preventing sexual violence on campus which is required to report all of its findings to its board of governors as well as to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, and finally to require every publicly funded college or university in the province to review their sexual violence policies by 2019 and make changes/updates as necessary.
In addition to these changes, colleges and universities in Ontario are also required to collect information on sexual violence on campus and report it to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Information that must be reported includes the number of times various resources, supports or accommodations relating to sexual violence are used as well as information regarding what the specific resources, supports and accommodations consist of.
As a result of these changes by the Ontario government, colleges and universities are changing the way they deal with sexual violence on campus. Many institutions have put together detailed policies outlining the various steps of a complaint process and the various forms of support that are available to victims throughout the process.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is Sexual Violence on Campus?
Colleges and Universities all over Ontario are in the practice of publishing a Code of Conduct for students at their particular institution. These institutions Code’s will generally apply to all students enrolled in classes at that particular institution and outline the standard of conduct for students both while physically on campus and while carrying out any matters associated with the school. A Student Code of Conduct functions as legislation applicable only to that school and allows the institution to dictate what is appropriate behaviour on campus and what is not. Generally, a Code will include a list of offences that may be committed by students with an explanation what each of these offences entails. Additionally, an institutions Student Code of Conduct will outline various processes and procedures that have been put in place to process, investigate, and adjudicate various complaints that come to their attention. Finally, an institutions Student Code of Conduct will stipulate the various penalties associated with a finding of guilt by the institution.
Each institution has its own policy to deal with incidents of sexual violence on campus including; the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University, Western University, Queens University, Laurier University, Ontario Tech University, the University of Guelph, the University of Windsor, OCAD University and George Brown College.
What is the Investigation Process?
Typically, the process will begin when a student or staff member makes an allegation of sexual violence on campus to the institution. The complainant will go through the intake process, where their concerns will be documented, and they will be provided with information on possible resources and support services as well as information regarding the institutions investigation policy and possible remedies.
At this stage, should the complainant wish to file a formal complaint, a statement will be taken which should outline the details of what is alleged to have occurred. The complainant will be asked to provide the name of the accused as well as the names of any other potential witnesses.
Interim measures may be taken in situations where serious allegations have been made and a student or staff member feels unsafe on campus. Typical interim measures include no contact orders between the complainant and individual accused for the duration of the investigation process or until the no contact order is removed.
Once a formal complaint has been filed the college or university will launch an investigation into the matter. An investigator will be assigned and tasked with completing a full and impartial investigation into the allegations made to determine whether any of them can be substantiated. During this stage it is likely that an investigator will interview both the complainant and the accused as well as potential witnesses and gather and review documentation. Both the complainant and accused will generally have the opportunity to review the information collected by the investigator and to respond.
What are the Potential Consequences?
Once the investigation process is complete, the investigator assigned to the case will write a report outlining their findings. The report is then generally forwarded to the department tasked with decision making at the college or university. The decision maker will review the report, consult with the appropriate parties and make a decision on the matter. The decision maker will also determine the appropriate remedies including appropriate sanctions where necessary. In most instances both parties will have the opportunity appeal the decision.
Alternative Dispute Resolution is also utilized at many colleges and universities across the province. It is important to note that both parties must consent to Alternative Dispute Resolution. If Alternative Dispute Resolution is utilized, the complainant has the option of returning to a formal investigation at any point if they so choose. Alternative Dispute Resolution is aimed at resolving the issue in a manner favourable to both parties without having to go through a formal investigation process.
Very serious consequences can result from a finding of guilt in an on campus sexual violence investigation. If the guilty party is a student, common sanctions include being placed on academic suspension, instructed not to communicate in any way with the complainant, or expulsion from the institution. If the guilty party is a staff member at the institution, they may be placed on suspension with or without pay, reassigned to a different position or department, or terminated. In situations where serious accusations of sexual violence have been made, the case may be referred to the police for further investigation. This can result in possible criminal charges for the accused which can lead to even more serious implications.
Are Sexual Violence Policies the same at all Universities?
While each institution of higher education is free to draft their Student Code of Conduct however they wish, generally, institutions include the same general offences in their list of prohibited behaviour. Virtually every Student Code of Conduct in Ontario will contain provisions relating to acts of physical violence against other persons. Specifically, students are prohibited from physically assaulting or threatening another person, sexually assaulting or harassing another person or physically damaging another person’s personal property. The majority of institutions also include provisions relating to disruption on campus. Students who cause a disruption to the natural functioning of the institution will be found in violation of their Student Code of Conduct. Likewise, provisions related to the physical destruction of school property are common. Any student found to have caused damage to any part of the institution’s property (moveable or immoveable) will have violated the institutions Student Code of Conduct.
Many schools also include provisions related to the unauthorized entry into school premises, or unauthorized use of the institution’s facilities, equipment or services. Finally, many schools include provisions related to making vexatious false accusations against another individual on campus, aiding or abetting another student to commit an offence, failure to comply with sanctions laid out in an institution’s Student Code of Conduct and unauthorized use or possession of a firearm or ammunition on school premises.