Sexual assault impacts 1 in 3 women in Canada. Women under the age of 35 are 5 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than their counterparts. Sexual violence impacts many aspects of a victim’s life and the Liberal government wants to address this concern with their new legislation. The legislation was proposed in late October and aims to assist victims in various circumstances including: their homes, schools, work and the justice system.
Arguably, the biggest change will occur in the legal realm. Courts will be asked to remove any limitation periods for civil proceedings founded on sexual assault or misconduct. Thus limitation periods to bring civil action would be removed. Furthermore, survivors of sexual and domestic violence will also be permitted to make applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board without time constraints.
In respect to work, employers will be liable to improve their sexual harassment prevention programs and conduct “appropriate investigations” of complaints. If a complainant feels the employer has failed to conduct an appropriate investigation they can take legal action against the employer.
Currently, the Occupational Health and Safety Act vaguely addresses sexual harassment as:
“Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
The Liberal government aims to define sexual harassment in a manner that will outline consent and unacceptable behavior.
At this moment in time, most postsecondary institutions merely state that sexual violence will not be tolerated and will be handled in accordance to the Criminal Code of Canada. The proposed legislation would require post-secondary institutions and private career colleges to create individual policies addressing sexual violence. The policies will be reviewed every three years with student input.
Finally, tenants will be permitted to exit a lease due to sexual or domestic violence in 28 days rather than the current 60 days limitation period. This will make it easier for victims to flee their abusers and escape financial abuse.
Activists are supporting the proposed legislation and suggesting it is long overdue while critics are concerned about the unaccounted for repercussions of such legislation.
Critics argue that allowing tenants to exit their rental leases in half the time due to sexual or domestic violence may discourage landlords from renting their spaces to women. Furthermore, some individuals are concerned that this will not tackle the pre-existing stigma against victims. Todd Minerson, executive director of the White Ribbon campaign, argued that the discussion around consent needs to continue as some men do not understand what consent entails. Hence, some feel that the proposed legislation is not enough.
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Points of Discussion:
1. How do you feel about the new proposed legislation?
2. What additions would you like to make to the new legislation?