University

Not all victims of school sexual violence deserve the identical peace of thoughts

Victims of sexual violence at colleges in the province can now learn about the sanctions imposed on their attacker. But not all complainants will have the right time: Universities refuse to disclose the sanctions retrospectively.

The Data Protection Act previously prevented institutions from disclosing information about the subject of a complaint. But a change in the law — adding a paragraph to Article 4 of the Act on Preventing and Combating Sexual Violence in Higher Education Institutions — went into effect on September 22. People who request it can now know if a sanction has been imposed and if so, the details of it.

Six Quebec universities were contacted by The duty have recently changed or are in the process of changing their policies to conform to these new policies. But at McGill University, the University of Sherbrooke (UdeS) and the École de technologie supérieure (ETS), the change will not be retroactive. For example, a person who filed a complaint several years ago may not know the outcome of the investigation.

“It’s a shame that the first people who paved the way with a complaint can’t all have access to the information. It’s a matter of fairness,” laments Mélanie Lemay, co-founder of the Quebec collective against sexual violence.

“I’m not surprised that universities don’t want to do it retrospectively,” adds Alexandra Dupuy, PhD student in linguistics at the University of Montreal (UdeM). “It could potentially damage their reputation. This culture of silence, there are institutions that have a keen interest in maintaining it. »

Véronique Pronovost who told that Have to the aggression she suffered ten years ago and who campaigned for this change in the law, recently filed a request with the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) to find out what punishment was given to her abuser, a teacher. However, this may not be possible. Contacted by The dutyUQAM has indicated that it is “researching this issue” and “intending to comply with the law”. For its part, the University of Laval has not yet decided either and “is currently carrying out the necessary consultations with its authorities”.

“I don’t understand the universities’ decision to install a brake again,” says Véronique Pronovost. “We need to rebuild trust in the university community and give complainants a sense of coming full circle. »

Contrasting interpretations

At the UdeM, on the other hand, the retroactive effect applies “without time limit”. “We want to have as much transparency as possible about what the laws and regulations allow us to do,” said spokeswoman Geneviève O’Meara.

Universities, which refuse to disclose the sanctions that preceded the change in the law, interpret them differently. “In order for a law to be applied retrospectively, the legislature must have expressly provided for this in the text of the law,” writes the ETS. “Policies almost never apply retrospectively,” says McGill University.

This lack of consistency bothers former PQ MP Martin Ouellet, who tabled the amendment in February 2021. The former elected official does not remember that retroactivity was discussed and after what The duty observed, the issue was not discussed in the in-depth study of Bill 64. Martin Ouellet also denounces a “biased difference”, especially since “it was intended that it should be the same for everyone at the universities”.

“We are not doing justice to the plaintiffs’ fight. Why does one university think this is necessary and the others don’t? This raises the question of what is being done to restore confidence. »

Although she understands the two opposing positions, Rachel Chagnon, a law professor at UQAM, hopes that UdeM’s approach will be popular. “Regardless of the timing, the university must transmit the information about the outcome of the complaint,” she said. “Section 4 of the law does not distinguish between ongoing and completed complaints. And nothing says there are time limits on university commitments. »

“We should see whether the people whose case is settled have an acquired right not to have the information in their file disclosed to third parties and whether doing so would be harmful,” she adds.

In a question-and-answer-type document sent to the heads of all Quebec universities after a June 9 meeting The duty received a copy, the Ministry of Higher Education notes that the new provision “does not impose any time limit on the submission of a request for information”.

Asked for comment, the Ministry adds that “a complainant’s request made after September 22, 2022 could target any complaint filed before that date, in accordance with the policy of the institution adopted pursuant to Law P-22.1 “. “It is the responsibility of educational institutions to seek legal advice to guide them in applying the law,” it adds.

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