Critics are calling for a province-wide policy to deal with sexual harassment and assault at all post-secondary institutions in B.C. after several female students at the University of British Columbia accused the school of failing to properly handle their cases.
On Sunday, several students came forward to accuse the university of waiting far too long to deal with complaints from six women of sexual harassment by a single student. None of the allegations have been proven.
Almost two years later, UBC expelled 28-year-old Dmitry Mordvinov. One former student is now taking her complaint to the human rights tribunal over what she calls the school’s broken and dysfunctional system for reporting and processing alleged cases of sexual assault and harassment.
Part of the issue is that UBC doesn’t have a specific policy regarding sexual assault on campus.
“There is no stand-alone sexual assault policy,” said Ashley Bentley of UBC’s Sexual Assault Support Centre. “Many other Canadian institutions do have stand-alone policies, which I think are really important.”
UBC has since apologized and it’s now promising to improve its policies for the future. But NDP advanced education critic David Eby said the province should step in to provide some guidance.
“I think this issue is that because of the huge bureaucracy at UBC, because of the number of actors and departments involved, they really screwed up,” Eby said.
“So they clearly need that support of a directive from government saying you must have these elements, it must be seamless, you must provide these supports, because without it, it seems like it’s several different people’s jobs and no one is doing it particularly well.”
At least two provinces, Ontario and Manitoba, have tabled legislation in the last few months to force post-secondary institutions to adopt specific policies.
Advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson said, at this point, there’s no plan to do something similar in B.C. However, the ministry “is working with our 25 public post-secondary institutions to ensure that they have up-to-date practices and policies around sexual assault and harassment to support students and staff.”
In a statement, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Martha Piper applauded the courage of the women who came forward and she apologized that they felt let down by the university.
“I appreciate the light the women have shone on this issue, and I want to make a pledge,” Piper wrote. “We will be reviewing the steps that were taken in these cases to determine how they might have been handled more effectively and expeditiously.”
“I don’t think the university failed in this case,” Dr. Sarah-Jane Finlay, UBC’s associate VP of equity and inclusion, said. “President Piper was clear that she was apologizing to the women for having let them down and we hear what they are saying. We get it. We want to look at how we can do better.”
UBC history professor Paul Krause said he takes Finlay’s and Piper’s comments at “face value,” but added that “this is a systemic problem and it needs to be confronted most seriously.”
-With files from Canadian Press and Randene Neill