POLITICS

Kathleen Wynne Unveils $41-Million Plan To Fight Sexual Violence, Harassment

03/05/2015 09:07 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Sexual violence and harassment are "rooted in misogyny," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday as she unveiled a plan to end the "learned behaviours" through legislation, increased funding and a blunt public service announcement.

The "It's Never Okay" plan includes new legislation and a public awareness campaign centred around an ad depicting assaults and harassment the premier described as uncomfortable to watch, but much harder to experience.

The ad shows a boy with an inebriated girl at a party, a man rubbing the shoulders of an obviously uncomfortable female co-workers, a student showing friends pictures of his girlfriend and a man at a bar slipping something in a woman's drink. In each of the situations they look directly at the camera and thank the viewer for not saying anything.

"When you do nothing you're helping him," the ad says. "But when you do something you help her."

The girls and women in the situations then turn to the camera and say thanks for speaking up.

"At its core this is a plan to change behaviours and challenge social norms," Wynne said.

"Sexual violence is rooted in misogyny, which is deeply ingrained in our culture, often in unconscious or subtle ways...These are learned behaviours, which means that they can be unlearned — or better yet — never learned in the first place."

The plan, which comes with a $41-million commitment over three years, tackles workplace harassment, the prosecution of sexual assault cases, a limitation period for civil sexual assault claims, victim support and assaults on campuses.

Wynne announced in December that such a plan would be accelerated after several women came forward to say they'd been harassed or sexually assaulted by former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi — who has denied the allegations — but never reported it. What was telling was the degree of disbelief toward such allegations in a number of high-profile cases at the time, Wynne said.

"So the fact that part of the public reaction was, 'This is unbelievable that it's taking place,' when we know — and certainly every woman in this room knows — that these are things that people deal with all the time, that compelled me to pull together...all of the initiatives."

The plan aims to "eliminate rape culture on campus," a move welcomed by student groups. Colleges and universities would be required by law to have a sexual assault policy and publicly report their statistics on sexual violence.

Nicole Desnoyers, women's commissioner for the Canadian Federation of Students' Ontario branch, said students are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.

"(There's) a concentration of young people who are not receiving education around consent, around what rape culture is, around how sexual violence in its many shapes and forms can be enacted on a day-to-day basis," she said. "We don't have that right now and so that's why I think that it gets concentrated on our campuses."

The plan also includes legislation, to be introduced in the fall, to eliminate a two-year limitation period for civil sexual assault claims and to strengthen workplace safety legislation. The Occupational Health and Safety Act would be amended to include a definition of sexual harassment and would require employers to investigate and address such incidents.

An "enhanced prosecution model" tailored to sexual assault cases is to include more training for Crown attorneys and police.

The government is also promising to boost funding for sexual assault support centres.

Progressive Conservative Laurie Scott, who pushed in December for the establishment of an all-party committee on sexual violence and harassment said she had hoped the issue could be tackled through non-partisan means, rather than Wynne's quickly unveiled plan, though she said she was glad the premier was addressing this issue.

The committee is expected to report at the end of 2015.

A permanent roundtable on violence against women will also be established, which will also include men.

"This cannot move forward without men," said Tracy MacCharles, the minister responsible for women's issues.

The New Democrats praised the plan but said they would be watching closely to make sure it comes with funding commitments, and that progress is regularly assessed and reported. Included in the plan is an update for Ontarians on the one-year anniversary.

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