First draft of new UBC sexual assault policy released

In the wake of a string of widely reported sexual assaults over the last few years and a human rights complaint filed against the university in 2014, UBC has been in the works of drafting a sexual assault policy. Since Bill 23 — which mandates all universities in the province to have a sexual assault policy  —  received royal assent and was passed in May, UBC has one year to complete a finalized policy.

Their first draft of the policy, which was first discussed at Tuesday’s People, Community & International Commitee meeting, was created to fill gaps in how UBC addresses instances of sexual assault. But some, like Glynnis Kirchmeier, the student who filed the human rights complaint, say that the proposed policy will not solve any problems.

“I think about this, and I think, ‘Would this have solved my situation?’ and I don’t see that it would,” said Kirchmeier on the policy draft.

The sexual assault policy (Policy 131) will be brought before the Board of Governors during their meeting on June 14, after which it will be released to the public for consultation. The consultation period will last all summer and into the fall so as to allow opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to provide input.

“Fulsome consultation with our community is just a wonderful opportunity and I look forward to hearing the feedback and learning how we can improve the first draft of this policy,” said VP Equity and Inclusion, Sara-Jane Finlay.

Following this period the policy will be redrafted in response to the feedback received from the community and from the panel appointed by the president that has been conducting community-wide consultation on both UBC campuses.

The proposed policy was submitted to the board in draft form before the province finalized Bill 23, making it legally mandatory for BC universities to have a sexual assault policy come next May. This has led to UBC’s proposed policy lacking some definitions and language required by the law — and therefore some changes will also be made to accommodate it — but Finlay says that “largely we have covered the requirements of the legislation in the policy as it was drafted.”

The way this new policy was created and its intention is to enunciate UBC’s values and principles and provide clarity and consistency around responses to sexual assault.

“I think [the policy] acts as a really good first step in getting our response to sexual assault right. It outlines our values and principles, and it makes the institution accountable to these values and principles,” said Finlay. “It brings all the information into one place and it creates a kind of clarity and consistency around the supports, accommodations and resources available for people who come forward to report sexual assault.”

Members of the committee which was in charge of creating the policy also tried to ensure that the policy remained focused on potential victims of sexual assault.

“I think we were very clear that we wanted this to be a survivor-centered policy, with personal agency for those people who come forward to report sexual assault so that they were the ones making the decision about whether to simply disclose to whom felt right to them, and to make choices about how they wanted to proceed once they’ve made that disclosure,” said Finlay.

Kirchmeier admitted that the policy surrounding disclosure, and the recognition that victims are entitled to support provided by the policy, are positive additions — but says that overall she feels the policy is “incomplete.”

For example, she noted that the lack of a definition for the word “sexual” poses potential problems down the road and has already proved to be an issue in campus proceedings.

“They define ‘sexual assault’ as any form of sexual contact — so if they’re not going to define sexual, it opens it up to a situation where someone can say oh, well that behaviour wasn’t sexual, therefore this wasn’t sexual assault,” said Kirchmeier. “That happened to Caitlin Cunningham with the Dmitry case — they just said that he had committed inappropriate behaviour, not sexual behaviour and there were very interested in how she knew, and trying to make her show how it was sexual.”

In response to the criticism, Finlay noted that such feedback is “exactly the sort of thing that the policy committee should hear.”

Kirchmeier also heavily criticizes the lack of a detailed process for the report and handling of sexual assault in the policy.

“The point of the policy in my view is to ensure the rights of all parties: that there’s not going to be discrimination, that the processes are fair and that there’s going to be a space for feedback and auditing and change in the process,” said Kirchmeier.

Finlay noted that policies do not usually contain that sort of information and rather, much of the detail concerning process and handling is contained within the non-academic misconduct process. However, she does not think that  it is appropriate to rule out the possibility of including the process in the policy.

“If the feedback from the consultation process is that it should include that, we’d absolutely take that quite seriously,” she said. “I don’t want to shut down the opportunity for feedback from our community, and the purpose of the policy and the work that we’re doing is to create clarity and consistency. If that’s what’s required for clarity and consistency, then I’m sure it would be given due consideration.”