UBC Draft Sexual Assault Policy Not Good Enough: Former Student

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ubcThe clock tower on the Vancouver campus of UBC.

VANCOUVER - The University of British Columbia has unveiled its draft sexual assault policy, but a former student who filed a human-rights complaint over the issue says it has failed to address her concerns.

The university began working on the policy after Glynnis Kirchmeier and other women alleged in November that the school had delayed acting on numerous complaints about a male PhD candidate.

Currently, the school relies on two policies to respond to sexual assault reports: a general discrimination and harassment policy, and a non-academic misconduct process within the student code of conduct.

The draft policy sets out the university's commitments and principles with regard to sexual assaults and outlines support services for survivors, but it does not include a new process for reporting and investigating assaults.

Instead, people who wish to report a sexual assault by a student are referred to the existing code-of-conduct process, while complaints about faculty or staff are to be reported to their administrative heads.

glynnis kirchmeierFormer University of British Columbia students Glynnis Kirchmeier, front, and Caitlin Cunningham, back, listen during a news conference at the university in Vancouver in November 2015. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/CP)

Kirchmeier said the current process is broken and the draft policy doesn't fix the problems raised in her complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. She said victims need a clear road map that outlines what will unfold after they report an attack.

"It's one of the ways you can reduce trauma," she said. "This policy does not tell a victim what is going to happen, and as a result it will not encourage people to report."

The draft policy was written by a 12-member committee of staff, faculty and students and presented at a meeting on Tuesday. It will be open for public comment after it's submitted to the board of governors next week.

"This policy does not tell a victim what is going to happen, and as a result it will not encourage people to report."
— Glynnis Kirchmeier

Sara-Jane Finlay, UBC's associate vice-president of equity and inclusion, said the policy could be amended to include a new stand-alone process for sexual assaults after the public consultation period wraps in the fall.

"It wouldn't be appropriate for us to create a new process as part of the policy. That needs to happen separately and be dictated by operational need," she said. "That may very well occur, and then the policy itself will be amended."

The committee expects to meet in October to redraw the policy based on public feedback, with the final version going to the board in December, she said.

New provincial deadline

B.C. recently passed a law requiring universities to have sexual assault policies, which comes into effect next May. UBC's draft policy acknowledges that some changes may be needed as a result of the legislation.

The dense, six-page document also details confidentiality and privacy obligations, citing B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

People who report sexual assaults have the right to know the outcome of the investigation, but not the details of any disciplinary action taken against their alleged assailant, unless sharing the information is necessary to protect the complainant's health and safety, the document says.

Good elements

Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor who led a report on the 2013 "rape chants" at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, said UBC's draft policy had some good elements.

He praised the university for noting that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations can experience assaults, and for carefully defining key terms, including sexual assault and consent.

But he said the amended version should either set out stand-alone reporting procedures for sexual assaults, or at least include the student code-of-conduct procedures as an appendix.

"At a minimum they have to be included, but I think there should also be a consideration of whether those general student misconduct policies ... are appropriate to the relatively unique aspects of sexual assault."

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