POLITICS

Kathleen Wynne Vows Steps To Combat Sexual Assaults, Encourage Victims To Report

12/04/2014 11:39 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Ontario will develop new policies to combat sexual assault and harassment, updating its sex ed curriculum in schools and taking steps to encourage more victims to come forward, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Thursday.

The government had been considering a number of initiatives before the Jian Ghomeshi scandal broke, but speeded things up after so many women came forward to say they'd been assaulted or sexually assaulted by the former CBC radio host but never reported it, said Wynne.

"Obviously the conversation that has happened because of the disclosures and this situation have perhaps accelerated (the proposals), but we were absolutely talking about many of these things," she said.

The Liberals will look for ways to reduce sexual assault at colleges and universities, but students must be taught about appropriate relationships in sex ed class long before they go to post-secondary institutions, said Wynne.

"I've asked the minister of education to finalize our new health and physical education curriculum that gets at some of the root causes of gender inequality, and from its earliest stages develops an understanding of healthy relationships and consent," she said.

"The social attitudes that underlay this problem run deep."

Wynne made note of the fact that Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the "gruesome, violent, misogyny unleashed on young women" at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.

"When we vowed to honour the memory of the 14 women killed, we vowed to do better," she said. "That was 25 years ago, so that we know that these are not new problems."

The rape shield law, which contains strict guidelines on when an alleged victim's sexual past can be used at trial, is too often ignored by defence lawyers, added Wynne.

"In spite of these protections, attacks on women's sexual history or clothing are too often considered fair game for defence counsel during prosecutions," she said. "We will ensure lawyers are upholding these laws, and we will explore alternatives to the criminal justice system that allow more people to bring complaints forward."

Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur could not provide examples of options outside the justice system that would encourage more victims to report sexual assaults other than increasing public awareness of the help that is available.

"We have to have a process for them to be able to report it, and when they do report that they are taken seriously," she said. "If there is a place for them to report it, a lot of them didn't know about it."

Ontario's opposition parties welcomed initiatives to combat sexual assault and harassment following the Ghomeshi scandal.

"The one thing that's come out of the situation with Mr. Ghomeshi is that now we're at least talking about it," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "And if these things are not talked about, they never get resolved."

Ghomeshi's lawyer has said he will plead not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He has said that while he engaged in "rough sex," his encounters with women were consensual.

Wynne promised cabinet would develop an "action plan" to deal with the issue by next March 8, International Women's Day.

"We need to look at what is it about the culture that we have all created _ because we have all been in this together _ that has not provided safety for people to come forward," she said.

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