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The University of Ottawa creates a Task Force on Respect and Equality

OTTAWA, March 6, 2014  —  University of Ottawa President Allan Rock today announced the creation of a Task Force on Respect and Equality.

“Recent events point to a need for a broader conversation. They raise troubling questions about attitudes and conduct and call out for a response from a university community that aspires to be a model of respectful behaviour,” says Mr. Rock.

“Our campus is safe. We have policies and practices in place to protect students, employees and staff from sexual violence and from harassment.  The question we are now asking is whether these policies and practices can be improved,” says Mr. Rock.

The Task Force’s mandate will be to submit specific recommendations to the President on ways to promote respectful behaviour on campus, particularly towards women. The aim is to ensure everyone can learn and work in a setting that is free of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Specifically, the working group will:

  • evaluate of what training and sensitization is provided in relation to sexual harassment and sexualized violence;
  • clearly state what principles of conduct the University values and promotes;
  • examine best practices elsewhere and how they compare to the University’s;
  • identify areas for improvement regarding the complaints/remedies process following allegations
  • determine sanctions should a student or employee advocate conduct that threatens others, including in a sexual context

“The University of Ottawa is known for the expertise of our feminist scholars and our legal analysts. Our faculty regularly publish insightful and informed commentary on these subjects. We can enrich a national conversation about these issues, and make the University of Ottawa a leader in the work of confronting them,’’ said Mr Rock.
 

Information for media:

Caroline Milliard
Manager, Media Relations
University of Ottawa
Cell.: 613-240-0275
caroline.milliard@uOttawa.ca

 

Statement from University of Ottawa President Allan Rock on the creation of the Taskforce on Respect and Equality

These are very troubling times for the University of Ottawa community.

As you all know, Student Federation President Anne-Marie Roy was the subject of a sexually graphic conversation on Facebook between five student government officials.

And on Monday, the University announced that the men’s varsity hockey program had been suspended because of allegations of serious misconduct. Senior management learned of those allegations from a third party on February 24, 2014 and reported the incident to the police on Tuesday, February 25.

Also on Monday, the police in Thunder Bay announced they are investigating a third party complaint of a sexual assault in relation to this matter.

I stress that these allegations have not been proven. We are co-operating with the police and have launched an internal review.

But these allegations, along with the disturbing on-line conversation about Ms. Roy, point to a need for a broader conversation.

Both incidents raise troubling questions about attitudes and behaviour. Both call out for a response from a university community that aspires to be a model of respectful behavior.

Working towards a meaningful response in these troubling circumstances will require at least three things: first, an honest assessment of the environment on campus; second, a sincere resolve to face up to what we may discover and make change where it is needed; and third, a whole-hearted renewal of our shared commitment to bring respect and consideration into all of our dealings with others.

Let me say a few words about each of these elements.

Assessing our campus environment

First, let me say that our campus is safe. We have policies and practices in place to protect students, employees and staff, from sexual violence and from harassment.  The question we are now asking is how these policies and practices can be improved.

First, we must evaluate our campus environment. Here we have to ask how well we send the message that all forms of sexualized violence are unacceptable and profoundly repugnant to our core values and beliefs.

Can we be clearer in telling our first-year students, our freshly hired faculty, our newly recruited staff that we will not accept words or conduct that suggest such violence is acceptable?

And what remedies and supports are available to those harmed by demeaning conduct or aggressive acts?

In short, how do we ensure an unmistakeable ethic of respect and equality on campus, so that everyone knows the standard they, as members of this university community, are expected to meet?

Making the changes that are needed

Addressing this challenge will require both individual and collective action.

It may mean that in our everyday lives we will not take part in conversations that make light of men’s violence towards women, or treat it as normal behavior.

As a community, we must be sincerely resolved to make the changes that are needed if we are to ensure a campus culture that prevents sexualized violence, encourages respectful conduct and maintains a safe learning and teaching environment. That may mean improved policies and practices, or new responses and remedies.

Our shared commitment

Finally, we must renew our shared commitment to the fundamental values of our university community: preventing violence by men against women; creating a culture of respect and civility; and maintaining our campus a safe place for students, faculty and staff.

That is why I am announcing today the creation of a Task Force on Respect and Equality composed of faculty, staff, students and outside experts.  Their mandate is to provide recommendations on how to encourage cultural change and respectful behaviour on campus so that all students, women in particular, can learn and work in an environment free of harassment and sexualized violence.  Members of the Task Force will be asked to:

  • evaluate of what training and sensitization we provide in relation to sexual harassment and sexualized violence;
  • clearly state what principles of conduct we value and promote;
  • examine best practices elsewhere and how they compare to our own;
  • identify areas for improvement regarding the complaints/remedies process following allegations
  • determine sanctions should a student or employee advocate conduct that threatens others, including in a sexual context.

Members of the task force will be announced in the coming days.

The Student Federation is planning its own task force. I think this an excellent initiative. I congratulate them for it and express the hope that the two groups will collaborate to the greatest extent possible.

Ours is not the first Canadian campus to face questions of this kind in recent years. They have started the conversation.  We wish to join it and we believe we can add a great deal. The University of Ottawa is known for the expertise of our feminist scholars and our legal analysts. Our faculty regularly publish insightful and informed commentary on these subjects. We can enrich a national conversation about these issues, and make the University of Ottawa a leader in the work of confronting them.

This is, of course, a broader societal issue. Violence by men against women is all too common in our culture, our entertainment and our attitudes. Society must change.

I believe that universities and colleges are ideal places to forge new strategies to deal with the prevalence of sexualized violence. Not only are they places for reflection and thought, but they are also where the next generation are acquiring their values and discovering what personal integrity means. Let us prepare a generation that rejects demeaning words, sexist conduct and men’s violence towards women.

I conclude by saying that as appalling as these events and allegations have been, they have also been a catalyst for frank discussion about attitudes and behaviour, and for a fearless inventory of our practices and assumptions. Let’s contribute to society’s understanding of the issue and let’s take action to make this the best campus it can be. 

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