Ontario introduces new sexual violence legislation

Man in handcuffs with fisted hands.
man in handcuffs. Stock photo by iStock/Getty Images

It was in 2013 when video footage of a group of students at St. Mary’s University in Halifax singing a pro-rape chant shocked the nation. The repugnant lyrics included: “Y is for your sister [. . .] U is for underage, N is for no consent.” The video went viral and sparked much conversation about sexual assault on campuses and everywhere else.

Yesterday, the Ontario government introduced new legislation that will target sexual violence and harassment at colleges, universities, and workplaces and make it easier for survivors to come forward and seek compensation. According to the Ontario government, one in three women in Canada will experience some form of sexual assault in their lives and sexual assault victimization is five times higher for women under 35.

If passed, the new legislation will mandate colleges and universities that receive assistance from the government to have a policy on sexual violence and make sure it’s reviewed with student input every three years.

Further, the new legislation will attach new duties to employers to protect workers from sexual harassment at work by creating educational programs and investigating incidents.

The new legislation will also change things for survivors. Currently, if a survivor of sexual assault wants to sue the perpetrator in a civil action, the claim for damages must be brought within a time frame from the time the survivor became reasonably aware of their losses. This means some claims may not be allowed because too much time has passed. The new legislation will get rid of this limitation period so survivors can come forward when they are mentally and physically ready to face the perpetrator.

The proposed legislation will additionally remove the limitation period for survivors to make a claim before the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Currently, an application for compensation must be made within two years of the date of the incident.

Another important nuance of the proposed legislation is to make it easier for tenants to end their tenancy agreements to escape physical violence and sexual abuse at home.

The introduction of the new legislation goes hand in hand with the Ontario government’s action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment titled: It’s Never Okay. Ontario recently committed to allocate more than $2 million toward a Creative Engagement Fund, which will aim to change attitudes and behaviours pertaining to rape culture and sexual violence through the use of artistic projects.

It’s refreshing to see a provincial government introduce legal protections to augment its commitment to end sexual assault and harassment. A multi-faceted approach is promising when it provides more than just funding and explores avenues to provide education and to empower survivors.

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