For most of my life I have either studied at or worked on university campuses around the world. For the last two decades, I have been a professor at the University of Victoria, the same university I attended as an undergrad in the 1980s.
Though my professional responsibilities are now largely centered around the legislature and my position as the MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head, I still spend a great deal of time working with and speaking to students and young adults. This year, like many of you, I have been sickened to see the seemingly endless wave of stories about sexual assaults happening on and close to universities and other post-secondary campuses in B.C.
Earlier this month I arrived back at my legislative office after a meeting in Vancouver to find my staff eagerly waiting for me with a campaign pitch and piles of Ontario legislation on their desks.
Sexualized violence is a massive issue in B.C., they started, and there is so much we can do to improve the situation – starting with colleges and universities. One sentence in and I was on board. We immediately got to work, reviewed Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, and drafted up a B.C.-version of their Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.
We compiled a list of over 50 student societies, assault support centres, and key people across the province and contacted each one for input.
On March 8 I introduced Bill M205: Post-Secondary Sexual violence Policies Act. The bill, based on similar legislation introduced in Ontario, was designed to address the pervasive occurrence of sexualized violence plaguing universities, colleges and other post-secondary institutions in British Columbia.
Noting that many post-secondary institutions lack sexual-assault policies, few have on-campus sexual assault crisis centres, and hardly any collect related incident data, the bill was designed to create a legal responsibility for universities and colleges to develop and maintain policies that would work to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence and provide support for victims.
The act would also require university and college-specific policies to be developed that would meet the needs of students, including education and protection, while working to create a safe environment for all students to come forward to report a sexual assault.
With an estimated one in three women and one in two transgender individuals experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime, this is a community issue that desperately needs to be addressed and post-secondary campuses present a unique opportunity to intervene.
The week after I tabled the Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act I followed up with the premier in question period.
Noting that action on this issue was long overdue, she pledged to work with me to officially pass a version of my bill – hopefully before the spring legislative session ends in May. Not a single piece of legislation proposed by a member in opposition has been passed by the government in at least the last 20 years, if ever, and I am thrilled with our progress on this issue. I have since met with the Minister of Advanced Education to discuss next steps in moving this forward, and will continue to consult with students, survivors, support groups and university faculty and staff to make sure their voices are included as we build these laws. Sexualized violence in our communities is a huge problem, but it is important to remember that it is also a problem with incredible potential for progress.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the incredibly courageous survivors of sexualized violence who had the courage to speak out.
Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and the leader of the B.C. Green Party.