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Québec solidaire proposes new legislation to fight sexual violence in primary and secondary schools

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Quebec Solidaire proposes new legislation to fight sexual violence in schools
Quebec Solidaire is proposing a new bill to prevent and fight sexual violence in schools across the province. While a framework prevention law has existed for CEGEPs and universities since 2017, primary and secondary schools had been left out. Elizabeth Zogalis has more – Apr 30, 2023

Québec solidaire (QS) is proposing new legislation with the aim to prevent and fight against sexual violence in schools.

While a framework prevention law has existed for CEGEPs and universities since 2017, primary and secondary schools have been left out.

The party held a news conference on Sunday to outline its plan, which has garnered support from the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois (PQ).

The legislation, titled Bill 397, was first presented on Thursday by QS MNA Ruba Ghazal, following a request from La voix des jeunes compte, a collective of young people with a mandate to fight sexual violence in schools.

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The new proposed law calls for the adoption of a policy to prevent and combat sexual violence in all institutions, from preschool to high school, including vocational training and adult education centers.

The policy, as described, must include prevention and awareness measures, mandatory annual trainings for management and staff, and a detailed complaint process, among other things.

READ MORE: Eastern Townships high school facing multiple sexual violence complaints

The presence of sexual violence services or a sexual violence contact person would also be required in all schools.

Advocacy groups have been calling for framework legislation for five years.

This is the second time Québec solidaire has tried to pass a bill to prevent and combat sexual violence in education. The previous one, introduced in October 2021 by MNA Christine Labrie, ran out of runway when the election was called and the docket was wiped.

“This bill is ‘take two’,” said Official Opposition critic for Education and Liberal MNA for Saint-Laurent, Marwah Rizqy.

“It is the second time it’s being tabled, the second time we’re supporting it, my political party, because we must go even further,” she added.

Rizqy recalled that her former Liberal colleague, Hélène David, had tabled a similar framework for CEGEPs and universities in 2017, when she was Minister responsible for Higher Education. “It works,” she said.

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“The justice system is at its breaking point right now,” said Melanie Lemay, cofounder of the Québec contre les violences sexuelle group. “It’s not true that a judge can tell a school principal how to act, the same goes for the police.”

She added that the education minister, CAQ MNA Bernard Drainville, needs to work with the opposition to “participate in a change of culture.”

“There is often an assumption that if young people are sexually abused, adults will intervene. That’s not true,” she said. “There have been a lot of cases of violence coming from school staff.”

QS spokesperson Manon Massé says her party is trying to correct a “blind spot.” She says that, as early as 2017, when the law to fight against sexual violence in post-secondary institutions was adopted, “there was a big piece missing.”

“We know that more than half of victims of sexual offences recorded by the police are minors, it doesn’t make sense that we don’t have any framework law to protect young people in primary and secondary school,” she said.

As for the PQ, spokesperson Méganne Perry-Mélançon said the bill is an “important step in the process that La voix des jeunes compte started five years ago.”

In a statement emailed to The Canadian Press, the office of the Minister of Education says it is very sensitive to the issues of sexual violence in schools.

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“La voix des jeunes compte was heard during special consultations in 2022 on the (Quebec) National Student Protection bill, which includes a comprehensive section on sexual violence,” the office said.

It added that the law was adopted last June and that a section provides for “mandatory training activities for management and staff members, as well as safety measures to counter sexual violence”— which will come into force on Sept. 15.

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