Consultations led by Possibility Seeds’ Courage to Act, the Canadian Federation of Students, and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance
In 2021 the Federal Government made a commitment to creating a National Action Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence (NAP). As part of building the NAP, gender-based violence (GBV) organizations were tasked with leading consultations with garner recommendations from stakeholders.
In February 2021, Possibility Seeds’ Courage to Act, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) led consultations with key stakeholders in the post-secondary sector to inform Canada’s National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. Together, we convened eight national consultations and circulated nine online surveys reaching 84 individuals within 3 weeks. In these consultations, we heard several urgent concerns and collected rich data and insights from students, frontline workers, staff, faculty and senior administrators at post-secondary institutions across the country.
It was important to conduct NAP consultations with post-secondary communities because post-secondary students, staff, faculty and administrators (at universities, trade schools and CEGEPS) are often left out of advocacy and mobilization efforts to address gender-based violence despite alarming statistics that 71% of students at Canadian post-secondary institutions in 2019 either witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a post-secondary setting (Statistics Canada), and that 41% of all reported incidents of sexual assault in Canada were reported by students (Statistics Canada, 2017).
The following are the key 12 policy and legislative recommendations garnered from consultations from key stakeholders in the post-secondary sector.
Calls for Justice: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government implements the Calls for Justice prescribed in the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Out of the over 230 Calls for Justice prescribed in the Final Report, the first recommendation is as follows:
1. Human and Indigenous Rights and Government Obligations.
We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments (hereinafter referred to as “all governments”), in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, to develop and implement a National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, as recommended in our Interim Report and support of existing recommendations by other bodies of inquiry and other reports. As part of the National Action Plan, we call upon all governments to ensure that equitable funding access to basic rights such as employment, housing, education, safety, and health care is recognized as a fundamental means of protecting Indigenous and human rights, resourced and supported as a rights-based program founded on substantive equality. All programs must be no-barrier and must apply regardless of status or location.
Governments should: Table and implement a National Action Plan that is flexible and distinctions based, and that includes regionally specific plans with devoted funding and timetables for implementation that are rooted in the local cultures and communities for diverse Indigenous identities, with measurable goals and necessary resources dedicated to capacity building, sustainability, and long-term solutions. Make publicly available on an annual basis reports of ongoing actions and developments in measurable goals related to the National Action Plan.”
Affordable Housing: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government allocate funding to provincial governments for investments in safe, affordable housing as a key means of preventing gender-based violence. All levels of government must expand investments in affordable housing, eligibility for subsidized housing and access to housing services, and expand services to include additional benefits (waiving application fees, move-in costs etc.)
Early Intervention Programs: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government makes an “investment into community-based and community-centred early intervention programs to assist people in domestic abuse relationships. These investments should also support greater access to subsidized safe houses and mental health supports” (Graduate Students Consultation, February 2021).
Child Protection Systems: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government should work with provincial and territorial governments to ensures that child protection systems do not place survivors at risk of losing their children because they have been unable to leave or reduce harm from an abusive partner.
Mandatory Comprehensive Sexual Health Education in Primary and Post-Secondary Schools: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government offers support and funding to provincial and territorial governments to ensure that comprehensive sexual health education is mandatory in elementary, middle and secondary schools across the country. Many participants stressed the importance of early education for children, including sexual education, which covers healthy relationships, consent, self-worth, self-responsibility, boundaries, online safety, gender diversity, and domestic violence awareness.
Stakeholders recommended that the federal government create a “Gender-Based Violence Prevention Evaluation Grant” to be used to continually inform best practices through evaluation of the effectiveness of gender-based violence prevention programs at PSIs.
Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government will work with the provincial and territorial governments to provide funding for gender-based violence centres on post-secondary campuses to provide a diversified set of resources and hire more specialized staff to decrease wait times for survivors (Undergraduate Student Consultations, February 2021).
Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government work with the provincial and territorial governments to provide sustainable long-term funding to agencies and initiatives working towards gender-based violence prevention and intervention.
Universal Access to Sexual Assault Forensic Exam kit: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to ensure that all urgent and emergency care units in hospitals across Canada have staff trained to administer a sexual assault forensic exam, supplies of the kit readily available and an ample storage system to hold evidence kits.
Supporting Survivors Through the Legal System: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government provide funding for free legal advice at the federal, provincial and territorial levels for survivors of gender-based violence. “Survivors should have accessible and free access to consultation with legal counsel to navigate their options in collaboration with someone who has legal training and experience” (Frontline GBV Campus Workers Consultation, February 2021). Additionally, stakeholders shared that the Federal government should:
Improve access to the legal system (e.g., free, low-cost legal counsel, more victim services workers) as well as trauma-informed legal services, particularly for those involved in intimate partner violence, sexual violence cases and family law cases.
Make it mandatory for judges to consider family and sexual violence in access and custody decisions.
Amend the Canada Evidence Act: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government explore an amendment to the Canada Evidence Act (1985) to exclude, or make inadmissible, records, statements and information gathered in the following administrative processes, both of which entail voluntary participation: enforcement of internal institutional policies, including investigation, findings, and outcomes; and collaborative non-adjudicative resolution processes, including restorative, transformative and circle practices.
Given the unique function PSIs serve in society, that evidence collected and documentation generated in the context of a policy breach warrants the same protections against being used in criminal court as those accorded to businesses under the Canada Evidence Act (1985). PSIs would be able to attain their goals and comply with the various legislative requirements they are subjected to. Respondents and complainants would be able to openly and honestly engage, possibly resulting in true accountability. The exclusion would not, however, preclude concurrent criminal charges. It would simply mean that any evidence used in a trial would be collected through a criminal investigation, not by the PSI. Given their unique and crucial role in society, it is not appropriate for PSIs to act as servants to the criminal justice system (Complaints Processes Working Group, Courage to Act).
Increase Workplace Safety: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to ensure trauma and violence-informed workplaces as well as safer workplaces for all. This could look like:
“More social programming or a division of Employment Insurance, that compensates victims for the time needed off of work or school to process their experience with GBV. Cases go unreported due to the financial ramifications of healing and bringing respondents to justice” (Francophone Students Consultation, February 2021)
Income security and job-protected leaves of absence.
Basic minimum income and access to stipend if not able to work.
Mandate that workplaces and PSI GBV policies include measures protecting complainants against retaliation.
Immigration: Stakeholders recommended that the Federal government assess and make changes to all immigration policies to ensure that they are trauma and violence informed.
No one should be further penalized by immigration policies when experiencing GBV (Black and Racialized Students Consultation, February 2021)
“Expansion of refugee claim grounds to include gender-based violence was an important step. Protecting international students is the next step. Any policy that does not take the experience of GBV into account is a failure as policy” (Senior Campus Administrators Survey, March 2021)
“Survivors who are sponsored by their spouse need guaranteed pathways to citizenship without fearing their sponsor will take it away from them as well as encourage and recognize intimate partner violence as a reason to be fast-tracked” (Graduate Students Consultation, February 2021)
Post-Secondary National Standard: Stakeholders recommended the creation of a National Standard of Canada for Gender-Based Violence Response, Education and Support for Post-Secondary Institutions. A national standard on addressing and preventing GBV on campus would generate broader cultural change, and support PSIs in their commitment to providing a healthy, safe and empowering educational environment.
This national standard ought to be evidence-based, accountable, trauma-informed, accessible, tangible, portable and intersectional.
“The national standard should include a section on the development and review of standalone sexual violence policies and outline all essential aspects of survivor-centric sexual violence policies as identified in the existing literature and by experts in the field” (Campus Faculty and Administrators Survey)
“Any type of legislative change should be evidence-based, and such evidence should be provided to each PSI under the jurisdiction proposing the new law” (Senior Campus Administrators Consultation, February 2021)
Suggested Citation: Courage to Act. (2021, May). 12 Policy Recommendations from Consultations to Inform Canada’s National Action Plan To End GBV led by Possibility Seeds, the Canadian Federation of Students, and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/nap-policy-recommendations