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Concordia opening a new sexual assault centre: To be run by professional social worker with help of student volunteers
Karen Seidman–May 7, 2013
MONTREAL — At universities everywhere, sexual assault is a growing problem, both in terms of increasing incidence and of university officials’ reluctance to deal with it.
“There is strong pullback on the part of universities and a real lack of efforts to resolve these types of issues,” said Vanessa Hunt, incoming deputy chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students and a student at York University in Toronto. “Where there are sexual assault support centres, students usually had to fight for it. It is a very challenging culture on campus.”
In that context, the advent of Concordia University’s new Sexual Assault Resource Centre this fall is very good news. But it also took two years of lobbying from students to make the centre a reality.
“We had a petition of over 1,000 signatures and the university just realized they had a responsibility to provide this service,” said Julie Michaud, administrative coordinator of the Centre for Gender Advocacy at Concordia, which fought for the sexual assault centre.
In Montreal now, only McGill University has a dedicated sexual assault centre, although the Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal provide counselling services. While universities seem prepared to deal with sexual harassment, it is trickier with sexual assault because it is a criminal offence.
Michaud described McGill’s centre as staffed by student volunteers “on a shoestring budget.” Concordia’s will be a step up from that, with a professional social worker running the centre with the help of student volunteers.
“This type of hybrid model is what differentiates us from other campuses,” said Howard Magonet, director of counselling and development for Concordia. “Whereas survivors might feel too stigmatized to seek help, this centre might help them.”
The centre will also help the university better understand the scope of the problem.
Magonet said there are only six sexual assault support centres on Canadian campuses, and Concordia wanted to fund its centre so a professional would be involved.
“It’s important to have a professional involved with this type of sensitive issue,” Magonet said. “It’s not fair to put that kind of onus on students.”
With statistics showing that one in four students are assaulted over the course of a four-year education (more than 80 per cent are women), that many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes and that young women age 15 to 24 experience higher incidences of sexual violence in Canada, it would seem logical for universities to be equipped with support centres.
However, the fact is the statistics are somewhat fuzzy because it’s believed the majority of cases never get reported.
And universities have sometimes handled the issue indelicately, as when Carleton University in Ottawa said a woman who was sexually assaulted on campus — and subsequently sued the university for not ensuring the safety of female students — had contributed to the attack through her own “negligence.”
Universities also have to deal with sometimes bawdy and inappropriate male students. For example, the CFS (which only represents Dawson College in Quebec) says a study showed that 60 per cent of Canadian college-age males indicated they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they wouldn’t get caught.
Even the ivy leagues have had to deal with hostile sexual environments on campus, such as in 2010, when members of a fraternity at Yale University marched around campus chanting, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and a video of the event went viral.
That is why, Hunt said, the CFS has been working to promote its No Means No campaign on campuses.
“We’re using it to push universities to shift the culture,” she said. “We’re trying to get people to stop blaming the survivor.”
The advantage of having a dedicated sexual assault centre, according to Michaud, is that it means there is someone to not only deal with survivors and to offer prevention tips, but there is someone to advocate for the survivor.
“They can intervene on behalf of the survivor if there was an assault by another student and the perpetrator needs to be moved to a different class, for example,” Michaud said. “Because most sexual assaults don’t happen in an alley. It’s usually someone they know who made them do something they didn’t want to do sexually.”
In terms of protocols dealing with sexual assault, universities are all over the map. Morton Mendelson, McGill deputy provost of student life and learning, aid the university has more of a “procedure” in place to deal with a student who has been assaulted.
It is a matter for the police, he said, but the university’s involvement may depend on where it took place and who was involved.
“Our concern is always for the victim of the assault,” he said.
Hunt said existing policies addressing sexual assault “are lacklustre,” so the CFS is trying to overhaul the approach on campuses.
At Concordia, Michaud said sexual harassment and assault are mentioned in the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, but it’s not a sexual assault policy per se and is written in legalese that is inaccessible.
“We would definitely like the university to create something that is more accessible and comprehensive, and we’ll be working toward this in the coming year,” she said.
For now, though, those involved with the campaign to get a sexual assault centre at Concordia will enjoy their success and try to ensure the centre meets the needs of the student population.
“With one in four students experiencing sexual assault during their post-secondary career, this is a much-needed service,” said Bianca Mugyenyi, programming and campaigns coordinator for the Centre for the CGA. “It is our hope that centres like these will open at universities across Quebec.”
Concordia aura son centre sur les agressions sexuelles: Les jeunes étudiantes qui fréquentent les universités sont au coeur de statistiques alarmantes
Caroline Montpetit–6 mai 2013
Fêtes arrosées tournant mal, promiscuité dans les résidences universitaires, rapports de domination entre conjoints ou amis. C’est avant 24 ans que les femmes sont les plus susceptibles d’être agressées sexuellement. Et les jeunes étudiantes qui fréquentent les cégeps et les universités sont au coeur de ces statistiques. Prenant le taureau par les cornes, l’Université Concordia vient d’annoncer l’ouverture prochaine d’un centre de ressources pour les victimes d’agression sexuelle. Ce centre, parrainé par l’administration de l’Université, offrira notamment les services d’une travailleuse sociale qui aidera les victimes de viols et d’agressions sexuelles à surmonter leurs traumatismes.
Concordia’s Sexual Assault Centre is Almost Here: Resource Centre to Open on Downtown Campus
Colin Harris–April 26, 2013
Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre will hopefully be up and running when students return this fall.
The university announced their plans to open the centre on Wednesday, finding its home in the downtown GM Building.
“We’ll probably have the space before we have the coordinator,” said Concordia Counselling and Development Director Howard Magonet. “But that’s a good thing.”
His goal is to have the centre operating by the fall semester at the latest. But specifics won’t be ironed out until the centre’s coordinator is hired—a full-time social worker position that Magonet says has received two applications before the one-year contract has even been posted by the university.
The new centre will be funded by Concordia’s Vice-President Services office, and will work under Concordia Counselling and Development.
This comes after two years of campaigning by the Centre for Gender Advocacy, an independent student group mandated to promote gender equality and empowerment. Holding events, postering and rallying around the annual Take Back the Night demonstration, the centre worked to show how essential such a space is for the university.
“We know the statistics behind sexual assault on campuses, that one in four students are sexually assaulted during their post-secondary career,” said CGA Programming and Campaigns Coordinator Bianca Mugyenyi, citing a survey done by the University of Alberta.
“When very few people are reporting it at Concordia, these services are much needed,” she added.
Last spring the CGA started a petition asking the university to provide permanent space for a sexual assault centre. It has since received over 1,000 signatures when tallying online and paper petitions. The Concordia Student Union and Graduate Students’ Association also put their support behind the initiative last year.
In the past few months, the proposal was drafted by the university. The full-time coordinator will work with student volunteers to create education, counselling and referral services, and will have access to the counselors and psychologists already working in Counselling and Development.
The space in the GM Building will have two adjacent offices, one for the coordinator and one for the resource centre.
“It’s a really cool example of student initiative being embraced by the university as an institution,” said incoming CSU President Melissa Kate Wheeler, who was involved in initial talks with the university because of her involvement in the “Love Doesn’t Hurt” campaign, an awareness-raising campaign centered around abusive relationships.
Wheeler was quick to point out, however, that the work done by the CGA is the reason why the centre is happening.
With Concordia’s administration providing all the funding, it’s a different model than the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society, which runs on a student fee levy and has been housed in the student union-owned building since the 1990s.
Wheeler says Concordia’s approach makes it easier to get experts involved in the centre, combined with the “skills and sensitivity” of student volunteers.
In the university’s proposal for the centre there are plans for an advisory board, which will meet regularly to provide feedback and recommendations for the centre. It’s a body Mugyenyi wants to see with a substantial student contingent.
“Our hope is that there will be as much student involvement as possible, because to build a genuine culture of consent at Concordia you have to have students integrated,” she said.
Concordia centre to provide outreach, sensitivity training and counselling
Tom Peacock–April 24, 2013
Mindful of the well-being of members of the university community, Concordia will establish a sexual assault resource centre this fall on its downtown campus. The centre will serve as a free, confidential resource for students, staff and faculty, providing educational resources, counselling and expert referral services.
“We felt it was necessary that Concordia provide services that specifically deal with sexual assault, given the high rate of sexual assaults on campuses across Canada,” says CGA staff member Bianca Mugyenyi, who worked with her colleague, Julie Michaud, to draw attention to the need for the service.
On its website, Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) cites research that states one in four university students experiences sexual assault over the course of a post-secondary career, and that 80 per cent of the survivors are women.
More than 350 students took up the cause, signing a CGA petition calling for the creation of a sexual assault centre on campus, and the campaign received strong support from student groups, including the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Graduate Student Association (GSA). “We felt we had a mandate to say that this is what students want,” Mugyenyi says.
The university was certainly receptive to the idea, says Dean of Students Andrew Woodall. But the complexity of an issue that touches on various administrative departments (including Health Services, Security, Counselling and Development, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities, and Legal Counsel) required serious consideration of how the centre would be integrated into existing response structures.
“We know the issue is important; it has always been important. But we had to figure out where to start building the trust and the relationships to move forward,” Woodall says.
“Getting to this point is a testament to the goodwill of multiple members of our campus community,” says Brad Tucker, associate vice-president, Student and Enrolment Services. “The key benefit, however, will be in the centre’s outreach and in its service to survivors.”
The new Sexual Assault Resource Centre will operate within Student and Enrolment Services under the umbrella of Counselling and Development. It will be staffed by a social worker, who will meet with survivors and coordinate the activities of student volunteers.
The students will provide peer support to survivors, and help with outreach and education initiatives. “A lot of our current volunteers at the CGA have already expressed their interest in volunteering with the Sexual Assault Resource Centre,” Michaud says.
“The more that students are involved, the more that there will be the genuine creation of a culture of consent at Concordia,” Mugyenyi adds.
Since students and student groups played a key role in the centre’s realization, their continued involvement will be key to the centre’s success, Woodall says. “This is a collaboration. We will have an advisory committee, with students providing input, which is important.”
Howard Magonet, director of Counselling and Development, says the centre’s incoming director will have to hit the ground running. “They’ll be doing a lot of outreach, meeting with students and student groups, creating sensitization and campus-awareness programs, and meeting with community resources,” he says, adding that his own office has already begun some initial community outreach.
“Our community partners, such as the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre, are all very happy that we’re doing this, and said that they would be happy to support us in any way they can.”
Incoming CSU President Melissa Kate Wheeler, who was involved in supporting the campaign for the new centre, says the realization of the centre is a “wonderful example of how students at a university and people who work for the university can work together on something that benefits the university as a whole.”
Wheeler says her team of student politicians plans to throw its support behind the centre once it opens. “We’d like to focus on promoting it, and making sure that the service is used.”
Listen to the CKUT & CUTV Special Two-Hour Broadcast Sisters in Spirit March & Vigil for Missing and Murdered Native Women
Across the country hundreds to thousands of indigenous women have been found murdered or gone missing over the last several decades. Native women face five times the rate of violence that non-Native women do in Canada. On Thursday, October 4th, at 6pm, women and men come together to commemorate the lives lost early and to call for an end to the tragedies and violence.
LISTEN BACK TO THE TWO-HOUR SPECIAL ON MISSING AND MURDERED WOMEN HERE
Interviews with: Ellen Gabriel, Indigenous activist, former head of Quebec Native Women Irkar Beljaars, Brother in Spirit Sheri Pranteau, native activist Vivian Michel, Quebec Native Women Clifton Nicholas, Native Activist Elyse Vollant, Native Activist Against Plan Nord Organizers from Missing Justice
Thanks to UpStage for graciously giving us the airtime to broadcast live this important event.
Bridget Tolley, an Aboriginal woman whose mother was killed by Quebec police in 2001, founded the annual vigil in 2005. She collaborated with Sisters in Spirit (SIS), an Aboriginal research and policy initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) whose funding was cut by the federal government in 2010.
This year, a record 163 vigils were held across the country, drawing tens of thousands of Native and non-native supporters to honour the missing and murdered Native women in Canada.
A virtual candlelight vigil was also held online, garnering over 542 messages of solidarity.
Stories of negligence in police responses to situations of violence against Native women are common. When a Sûreté du Québec police cruiser struck Gladys Tolley – Bridget Tolley’s mother – the officer in question was never charged. A request for an independent investigation by the Quebec government was subsequently denied.
According to SIS, at least 600 Native women have gone missing or have been murdered since 1980, though activists believe the number to be closer to 3000 – a discrepancy they attribute to incomplete police records.
This year, NWAC issued a petition calling on the government to hold a national public inquiry that involves Native women and communities.
Although the United Nations has repeatedly called on the government of Canada to undertake a comprehensive plan of action against what Amnesty International Canada calls a “national human rights crisis,” the government has thus far refused to cooperate.
“It benefits the government to ignore our calls for a public inquiry,” said Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist who spoke at the vigil. “[Aboriginals] are creating more jails for the Harper government.”
Aboriginal leader John Cree agreed with Gabriel, and had stronger words for the government’s treatment. “They don’t seem to care because they think we’re animals,” he said.
When Métis journalist and activist Irkar Beljaars organized the first Montreal vigil in 2007, only thirty people attended, a stark contrast to the hundreds that gathered on Thursday evening. Since 2009, Beljaars has partnered with Missing Justice, a grassroots solidarity campaign of the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy at Concordia.
Nina Segalowitz, an Aboriginal caseworker, encouraged march-goers to not only mourn for those lost, but to “celebrate all the women that continue to fight every day.”
Drumming and singing from both Native and non-native supporters accompanied the peaceful march to Phillips Square. The evening culminated with both traditional and contemporary cultural acts, several speakers, and a candlelit moment of silence.
Despite the positive mood of the march and the vigil, there was a pervasive current of frustration, evident in comments from speakers and march-goers alike.
Tanya, a Concordia student, criticized the government’s failure to address this issue properly. “I’m ashamed by the fact that you can barely find any information about [the issue]. It’s a real disaster,” she said.
Bianca Mugyenyi, a program coordinator at the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, echoed these sentiments, calling the situation an “epidemic.”
“The government is not providing solutions. They’re indifferent, and this makes indigenous women incredibly vulnerable to violence,” Mugyenyi told The Daily.
Amnesty International Canada reports that Native women in Canada are five to seven times more likely to be killed violently than their non-native counterparts.
The Missing Justice campaign also criticized the federal government for choosing to increase police power – allowing police to obtain warrants and install wiretaps –rather than continuing to fund SIS. Aboriginal activists maintain that these increased privileges will only be used to further criminalize native communities.
Quebec Native Women President Viviane Michel told the gathered crowd at Place Émilie-Gamelin that she was tired of the stigmatization of Native women.
“You go to the police to ask for help, and they respond with ‘your daughter has been missing for two, three, four days? She’s probably just drunk somewhere,’” she said in French. “I am so sick of Native people being immediately associated with the problem of alcoholism.”
Hundreds march for missing, murdered Indigenous Women: Speakers at seventh annual march call for government accountability; number of marches increase across Canada
Andra Cernavskis–October 10, 2012
Last Thursday evening, approximately 300 people participated in Montreal’s 7th Annual Sisters in Spirit March and Vigil for Missing and Murdered Native Women. This year’s Spirit March, held the same night as over 100 similar marches, focused on the theme of government accountability.
The Spirit March has been held annually since 2005, and is spearheaded by Bridget Tolley, an Algonquin woman who has worked with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). Tolley started the movement to help seek justice for her mother Gladys, who was killed by in 2001 when she was struck by a police cruiser on her reserve in Quebec.
According to statistics gathered by Amnesty International Canada, Indigenous women are five times more likely to die because of violence than any other group of women in Canada. Furthermore, according to Sisters in Spirit—NWAC’s research initiative—at least 600 Indigenous women have been murdered or have gone missing since 1980.
Bianca Mugyenyi, Campaigns and Programming coordinator at Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy and member of Missing Justice—one of the 2110 Centre’s campaigns—helped plan this year’s march, which Missing Justice has organized since 2009.
The march began at Place Émilie-Gamelin, where people gathered to listen to speakers and musical performances. The crowd then marched to Phillips Square for a candlelight vigil, and more speakers and performances.
While Mugyenyi believes that progress has been made in terms of international and media recognition of violence against Indigenous women, she said she does not think that enough has been done on the part of the Canadian government.
According to Mugyenyi, the federal government has failed to respond to requests for a public inquiry, submitted by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
“There has also been a regression because Sisters in Spirit had their funding taken away [by the federal government],” Mugyenyi said.
Ellen Gabriel—a human rights advocate who has been active at the international level, participating most recently at the UN Expert Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and former president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association—participated and spoke at the march. On her blog, sovereignvoices1.wordpress.com, Gabriel refers to herself as Onkwehón:we. She has attended this march every year since it began seven years ago.
“When [this march] first started, it wasn’t very big, but now with all the vigils happening across Canada—this being one of them—to see the numbers is very inspiring,” Gabriel said. “It’s nice to see the young people interested, and taking part in this kind of movement … I think it means a lot to families who have been affected.”
However, Gabriel mentioned she would also like to see the federal government take more direct action.
“I think the NWAC earlier this year stated that [relations with the government] haven’t improved,” Gabriel said. “It’s gotten worse … and it’s really a lack of political will. All that research the NWAC did, and there hasn’t been any policy made or implemented.”
Even though police escorted the marchers through the streets, the evening remained peaceful. According to Mugyenyi, police were not informed of the route of the march beforehand despite Law 12, which requires that all protest routes be made known to the Montreal Police.
“The city has definitely calmed down since the demonstrations last year, so it’s a different world,” Eli Freedman, U3 arts, said. “Last year, there were so many police officers. It was very intimidating … [But now] I’m not worried about pepper spray or tear gas.”
Mugyenyi, like Gabriel, was pleased with the turnout and diversity of people present at the Spirit March.
“There [are] Indigenous and non-Indigenous marchers alike, which is very encouraging, particularly given the history around the silence,” Mugyenyi said.
Mugyenyi also noted that 150 similar marches were more prevalent in Canada and around the globe this year than ever before.
“Most of them are in Canada, but [now] there [are] even some marches in South America and in the U.S,” Mugyenyi said. “A movement is definitely building to make our society safer for Indigenous women.”
Honouring the Dead, Standing with the Survivors: Seventh annual Sisters in Spirit vigil still seeking answers, action for missing and murdered women
Tim McSorley, October 5, 2012
MONTREAL—Close to 200 people joined Montreal’s seventh annual Sisters in Spirit vigil and march last night. It was one of more than 160 vigils across North America on October 4 in commemoration of the thousands of Native women who have been murdered or gone missing over the past three decades.
Since it was founded in 2005 by Bridget Tolley, an Algonquin woman whose mother was killed when Surete du Quebec officers hit her with their car, organizers of the Sisters in Spirit vigil have argued that government and police need to take the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women more seriously. Estimates range from 600 (according to police) to more than 3000 (according to researchers and human rights activists) Native women who have faced disappearance or a violent death since the 1980s.
While violence against Indigenous women may have appeared more often in the headlines due to high profile cases like the William Pickton trial in BC, vigil organizer Bianca Mugyenyi said people need to realize that this is a national crisis, where women from across the country find themselves threatened and in danger on a daily basis.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of high rates of violence that Native women face in this country,” said Mugyenyi, who is with Missing Justice, a Native women solidarity group that has helped organize the Montreal vigil since 2009.
Nina Segalowitz, an Innu woman and frontline case worker with abused women, echoed Mugyenyi’s concerns. “We’ve lost a lot of women in Montreal to violence, from partners and ex-partners…While we’re here for Native women, I like to think that we’re here for all women who are abused simply for being women.”
First Nations women are five times more likely than other sectors of the population to face violence, she said.
Speakers at the vigil pointed to two significant places where action is needed: government action to ensure the safety of Native women, but also transformation and education in society to decrease violence against women in general, and against Native women in particular.
Mugyenyi had particularly harsh criticism for recent actions of the federal government. Budget cuts have led to the significant reduction and elimination of resources meant to combat violence against Native women. One aspect has been the federally funded Sisters in Spirit program, organized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. The federal government provided funding to the program from 2005 until 2011, in order to build a database of information on unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native women. In 2010, the Conservative government announced it would not continue funding the program, and that the group would need to cease operating. The decision came as a blow, since the program had already built profiles of more than 500 cases and was seen as doing effective work.
Instead, the government announced $10 million in funding, mostly for police operations.
Mugyenyi said that this decision, as well as the Conservative government’s “tough on crime” stance, will do little to improve the situation of Native women.
“In the case of missing and murdered women, the police are part of the problem,” she said. “They make assumptions, perpetuate stereotypes. Bridget Tolley’s mother was killed by the Surete du Quebec. She’s been calling for an independent inquiry, outside of the police, which the government has continued to turn down.” In 2001, Tolley’s mother was hit by an SQ police car and died. The investigation into her death, which cleared all involved of wrongdoing, was led by the brother of the officer at the wheel of the car.
Sisters in Spirit has been instrumental in researching and recording cases of native women who have been killed or gone missing.
Instead of more police operations, said Mugyenyi, better education around violence towards women and more social services to help women who are in precarious social situations are needed. She also said the government should heed the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in their support of a national inquiry into violence against native women. That call was put out in December 2011, but the federal government has yet to take action.
While government and police actions play an important role, another significant issue that speakers pointed to is the need for more action against sexism and racism in all communities.
Segalowitz added that she was at the vigil not just to honour the women who have died, but also to stand beside the women who have been able to survive and carry on, and because of her three children, whom she hopes will not have to deal with the same issues of violence and abuse.
Irkar Beljars, a Mohawk man who has helped organize the vigil over the past several years, called on the men in the crowd to make sure they pass the word on and tell their friends where they were tonight, and why it is important to raise their voices against violence towards women.
After seven years of vigils, Mugyenyi expressed hopefulness that the message is being heard. “Every year there are more people, media coverage goes up,” she said. “It’s encouraging to be here to see so many people come out to honour the lives of missing and murdered women.”
Tim McSorley is an editor with the Media Co-op and a contributor with the Co-op media de Montreal.
Demonstrators in 163 cities across Canada took to the streets last Thursday to demand justice for missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Sam Slotnick–October 9th, 2012
The Montreal contingent of the Sisters in Spirit Vigil for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women—now in its seventh year—marched hundreds strong to the beat of animal-hide drums from Place Émilie-Gamelin to Phillips Square.
Participants lit candles and remembered the women demonstrators’ signs referred to as the “stolen sisters.”
There are an estimated 600 missing aboriginal women in Canada, but some put the number at nearly 3,000. Aboriginal groups and families are in an long-lasting struggle with the government over funding and resources to investigate these cases.
Although Sisters in Spirit is one of the groups whose funding is currently in jeopardy, Montreal’s march has grown exponentially since 2005.
“Seven years ago we had 30 people, the second year we had 50 and it kept growing and growing,” said Irkar Beljaars, a Mohawk activist who has helped organize the event since its inception.
Manifestation innue contre le Plan Nord
Mathieu Lavallée–September 28, 2012
Moins d’une centaine de personnes ont manifesté contre le Plan Nord ce vendredi au centre-ville de Montréal en marge de l’événement Positionnez-vous sur l’échiquier Plan Nord, organisé par Les Affaires.
Le rassemblement organisé par des membres de la communauté innue demande à stopper l’exploitation des ressources non renouvelables du Nord québécois et à mettre de l’avant un développement qui protègera le territoire.« Nous avons besoin du territoire pour nos générations futures », a plaidé Denise Jourdain, professeure de langue innue et l’une des organisatrices de la manifestation. Cette dernière a fait partie de la grande marche partie du nord de la province pour arriver dans la métropole de 22 avril dernier, en plus d’être du blocus de la route 138 en mars dernier.« Il faut que [le développement du nord] soit propre, qu’il n’y ait pas d’extraction de ressources non renouvelables, que cela n’affecte pas le territoire et qu’il n’affecte pas la vie des générations futures », a-t-elle précisé en entrevue. « C’est quoi notre responsabilité face au Plan Nord ? Si nous laissons tout faire, nous risquons d’offrir un univers pollué à nos enfants».Elle soutient que le projet dans sa forme actuelle crée plusieurs tensions dans les communautés autochtones du Nord québécois, qui s’ajoutent aux problèmes sociaux déjà très importants. Selon elle, le gouvernement n’a pas obtenu le consentement des communautés locales avant de passer à l’action.« Le développement économique, c’est un concept qui appartient aux Québécois. Nous, notre concept, c’est la protection du territoire. Permettez-nous de nous rebâtir avec les moyens que la mère Terre nous donne. C’est avec cela que nous pourrons relancer nos communautés », a-t-elle insisté.
Invisible on Campus
Elysha del Giusto-Enos — March 13, 2012
Nearly a quarter of female university students will have experienced a sexual assault by the time they graduate.
That’s a shocking, horrifying statistic and coupled with Concordia’s culture of social awareness and responsibility, it makes the oversight of these statistics even more unsettling than when they’re ignored in mainstream society.
“It’s pretty clear that universities are a place where a lot of sketchy stuff goes down,” said Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, a 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy campaigner. “The anti-sexual assault campaigns that I’ve seen are generally pretty flawed and target the victim as someone who needs to change their behavior.”
The 2110 has been working since the fall of 2011 to found a sexual assault centre on campus. The university’s position is that there aren’t enough resources for it and that health services offers sufficient aid to assault survivors.
“We don’t have one because if someone comes in after being sexually assaulted then we refer [them elsewhere],” said Julie Gagné, the manager of Clinical Services at Concordia. “We would never turn someone away, but by law it has to be done at certain places so the [perpetrator] can’t deny it in court.”
If they want the rape exam, the university sends students to the CLSC Faubourg or Montreal General Hospital, where they can also book a counseling appointment—but due to demand, they could wait over a month to speak to someone.
For advocates of a sexual assault centre on campus, health services just isn’t specialized enough to address the needs of survivors in a timely and sensitive way.
“An actual sexual assault centre with people trained to deal with sexual assault, non-consensual sex—and that would cover things like rape kits—[is needed],” said Rolbin-Ghanie. “But also to help people navigate the legal system and their legal options on top of medical ones.”
Rolbin-Ghanie added that advocacy is another reason to have a specialized centre, because the stigma surrounding assaults keeps victims invisible. The idea that the survivors brought the assault on themselves is a prominent part of most anti-assault campaigns.
The status of this misconception became obvious last year when a Toronto police officer giving a campus safety information session said that if women wanted to stay safe “they should avoid dressing like sluts.”
This statement is seen as being responsible for the controversial “slut walk” demonstrations that sprung up across North America following his remarks.
This same caricature of sexual assault is echoed at Concordia. The university’s security web page advises that, to prevent assaults, women should avoid dimly lit areas and not consume alcohol to the point that they can’t “react quickly to any situation.”
“They address people that might be assaulted but they don’t address people who assault,” Rolbin-Ghanie said. “A society where that is the primary message in the campaigns is just an indication that we still have values that are kind of sick.”
According to a Canadian study, one in five male college students surveyed said that forced intercourse was alright “if he spent money on her,” “if he is stoned or drunk,” or “if they had been dating for a long time.”
Concordia’s approach to outsourcing sexual assault cases is reinforced by the idea that a special centre for survivors on campus would be counterproductive.
“Most of the time people would not join a group in their own environment,” Gagné said, “because they would see people they see every day within the building. Usually support groups are on the outside so people don’t know each other.”
The 2110 has the goal of collecting 5,000 signatures for their cause to both raise the profile of the issue and put pressure on the administration. On March 5, the signature-collecting campaign was taken to the Hall Building and volunteers talked to several hundred students.
“The vast majority of people are willing to sign [the petition],” Rolbin-Ghanie said. “And most students are quite shocked that there’s not a sexual assault centre, most of them just assume there is.”
—with files from Catlin Spencer.
Signatures of Support
Hilary Sinclair — March 6, 2012
A group from the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy rallied from the top to the bottom of the Hall Building March 5 to raise awareness, gain support and solicit signatures for a sexual assault centre on campus.
The proposed centre would support a 24-hour crisis hot-line, support network and improve university policies on sexual assault.
With a core group of five people, advocates visited each floor in what Programming and Campaigns Coordinator at the 2110 Centre Bianca Mugyenyi said was a successful initiative on Monday.
They added at least 150 signatures to a petition that is currently 1,000 names strong.
“The biggest obstacle at this point is a lack of funding from the university for sexual assault services, a space and someone to coordinate,” said Mugyenyi.
There are also major problems with the policies that the university uses to deal with sexual crimes on campus. The use of inaccessible language and a lack of distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault, coupled with the absence of sensitivity training for security officers are among the polices that 2110 claims are in need of reform.
“We really need a section out of the policy that is directly related to sexual assault and clear avenues for where people can go to get advocacy and counseling,” said Mugyenyi.
The group is currently working on drafting recommendations to the administration that will ensure university policies can properly address campus sexual safety.
While Mugyenyi says that the rally came on a chaotic day with all the strike actions kicking off, she was able to draw parallels between the fight for education and their campaign.
“It really struck me when I was walking through the Hall Building that what a lot of students are searching for is an accessible campus, a campus that they can afford to go to,” said Mugyenyi. “Similarly, we want an accessible campus where people are safe.”
The group plans to hold more rallies in the future, with the goal of getting 5,000 signatures and getting more students involved.
What’s in a Name?
Jacques Gallant – March 1, 2012
Starting this fall, Concordia University plans to implement changes that would allow students to use a name other than their legal name on some non-official documents, including class lists. In a Feb. 15 press release, Concordia indicated that the modifications came as a direct result of “a request from a student undergoing a gender reassignment that his preferred name replace his legal name on his official transcripts.” But that student, Ben Boudreau, has lashed out at Concordia’s proposal, calling their solution to his complaint a “band-aid” that does not fully rectify his difficulty at being identified at school as he wishes to be. “I doubt they’ll be able to do this effectively,” says the second-year science student. “They talk about class lists, but my legal name, a name that is clearly female, is still going to be a part of my student ID. I’m still going to have trouble renting out study rooms and books at the library using my preferred name.” Extending what it calls a “further accommodation,” the university will also permit students to use the initial of their legal name on their ID cards. But for Ben, that’s not enough, as the initial is part of a name he no longer identifies with.
Ben is presently going through the lengthy process of changing his legal name with the province, but in the meantime, he was hoping his request to go by his preferred name would be accommodated by his university. Since his arrival at Concordia in 2010, he has been repeatedly outed in class during roll call, despite his attempts at contacting his professors to plead with them to call him “Ben.”
By contrast, at the University of Toronto, a student who wishes to go by another name on documents, including academic records, simply has to send a letter to the registrar, without having to disclose a reason. And at McGill, students can change their preferred name through the online portal, which will then appear on class lists and as part of the student’s university e-mail address. But a legal name change is still required for transcripts and ID cards. The change is also necessary to modify documents at UQAM.
Frustrated with what he calls a “lack of progress,” Ben has teamed up with the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy and the Concordia Student Union to push the university’s Senate to acquiesce to his long-standing request.
Gabrielle Bouchard, the 2110 Centre’s trans advocacy and peer support coordinator, says she was angry that the university had not consulted with the Centre before announcing the name-related changes.
“These changes don’t solve anything,” she says, mentioning that a student’s legal name will still appear on a variety of documents as well as on the online student portal.
Bouchard adds that Concordia is sending the message “that trans students and all students who need this to happen are not worthy of a dialogue.”
For now, Concordia maintains that the Ministry of Education obligates them to use a student’s legal name on transcripts. However, according to ministry spokesperson Esther Chouinard, there is no such rule in place.
She says all the Ministry asks is that it be able to match a student’s grades with a legal name in its database. When asked about this, Concordia indicated that the matter was being looked into, and declined to comment further.
Fear Of Flying
Oliver Leon–February 14,2012
A regulatory change quietly made to the Aeronautics Act by Transport Canada last July could disallow transsexual and transgender people from boarding flights leaving Canada.
The change caused a stir last month after transgender activist Christin Milloy blogged about the discovery.
Section 5.2(1)(c) of the ID screening regulations now says, “An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”
The names on all pieces of identification must also be matching—a problem for people who are in the midst of transitioning. If there are major discrepancies with your identification cards, you will not be getting on that flight.
“The only impact it will have is to put into regulation discriminatory practice.
“It will make trans people miserable, it will make gender non-conforming people miserable, it will make boarding agents miserable and it will make cisgender [non-trans] people—mostly women—who could be perceived as the ‘other gender’ miserable,” said Gabrielle Bouchard, a Trans Health Network and peer support coordinator at the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.
She added that she is working closely with the New Democratic Party and other groups to fight this ban.
The Canadian queer newspaper Xtra reported that NDP Minister of Parliament Olivia Chow noticed Conservatives snickering when pressed for answers by members of the NDP and by Liberal MP Justin Trudeau about the new regulations during the question period on Feb. 1.
At the time, she argued the section of the rule was “unnecessary, it’s backwards and it’s discriminatory,” before putting a motion before the Chair to repeal the identity screening regulation.
“The Conservatives just voted against my motion to stop discrimination against the travelling transgendered community,” Chow tweeted on Feb. 9. “Shame.”
According to Xtra, Transport Canada has stated, “Any passenger whose physical appearance does not correspond to their identification can continue to board an airplane by supplying a letter from a healthcare professional explaining the discrepancy.
“We have no records of any individual being denied boarding in Canada because they are transgender or transsexual.”
It is possible to fly if you have proof that you have had sex reassignment surgery or a letter explaining that you will have the surgery within a year.
This is problematic for trans people who do not want to undergo, or are unable to afford, the expense of surgery. Some provinces will also only pay for SRS if you go to specific clinics in Ontario or Quebec, which would be difficult for trans people to get to, given the current flying regulations.
A Facebook group, À bas l’interdiction aérienne transphobe—Against Canada’s trans flight ban, has formed to provide updates on the situation.
Currently, transgender and transexual people do not have federal protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill C-389, a bill that would have amended the Act to add gender identity and gender expression was passed in Parliament and the House of Commons, however it died in the Senate when the federal election was called in 2011.
Details on how to apply for a “Sex-Unspecified” passport in protest can be found at chrismilloy.ca.
Money and the missing
Christopher Olson– February 10, 2012
Three months after the federal government stripped its funding for the Sisters in Spirit campaign, which aimed to cast a light on the disproportionate number of Native women who have been the victims of violence, some are saying enough is enough.
One of those people is Maya Khamala Rolbin-Ghanie, a member of the advocacy group Missing Justice. The news in November that Sisters in Spirit would lose its funding came just as the government announced plans for enhanced police powers, including wiretaps and fast-tracked warrants.
“It’s not rare for police and Native communities to have relationships of mutual distrust,” said Rolbin-Ghanie. “Native men and women are both highly disproportionately represented in prisons in Canada. Even though only 13 per cent of the documented cases have happened on reserves, and the majority have happened in cities, police tend to target the former way more.”
Before the loss of its funding, the SIS had documented 583 cases of missing or murdered First Nations women since 1980. But, says Rolbin-Ghanie, the actual number may be as high as 3,000.
The Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women will be held on Feb. 14 at 3 p.m. at Cabot Square (the corner of Atwater and Ste-Catherine W.).
Visit missingjustice.ca for more information.
Concordia Still asking for sexual assault support centre
Jonathan Duncan February 01,2012
While Carleton University recently announced their intention to open of an on-campus sexual assault support centre, students at Concordia University are still asking for one.
Julie Michaud, a member of Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA), is part of a group of students trying to drum up support for a sexual assault support centre.
The CGA started as a women’s centre, and has since branched out into different social issues. While the group has students trained in active listening, Michaud said there’s no one trained to deal specifically with sexual assault.
“Currently, if somebody were to come to us we would be inclined to direct them to another service in the city, and that’s why we really want to prioritize having that service at Concordia,” Michaud said.
They opened talks with the university about getting space, and sustainable funding, but the university initially turned them down, according to Michaud.
Cléa Desjardins, senior advisor for external communications at Concordia, said the university believes it provides adequate support for victims of sexual assaults.
“We’ve got health services and security,” she said. “Those two groups are on campus, and are ready to respond to any request or issues regarding sexual [assault] support.”
But if students need serious medical attention, or forensic help, they are taken to the Montreal General Hospital, according to Desjardins.
As for emotional support, Desjardins said the university does have councillors on site who will follow up with students to make sure they’re doing well in classes, but any further psychiatric counselling is outsourced from the school.
This raises concerns for Michaud, who believes the experience of sexual assault is enough, and all efforts should be made to make the healing process as comfortable as possible.
Michaud has also taken issue with the wording on Concordia’s website for the Office of Rights and Responsibilities.
“It is important to understand that once you choose this route, you have entered into an adversarial process where others decide the outcome. This is very different from a situation where you deal with the problem yourself, or negotiate a solution with the other party,” the website reads.
“It kind of warns anybody who’s bringing the complaint forward that if any sort of formal procedure is undertaken that it is irreversible,” Michaud said. “So the burden of proof is placed on the person who is reporting, and as we know that’s a major deterrent.”
Directly below the statement, it does let students know that, whatever their choice, they don’t have to do it alone.
Regardless, Michaud said she believes this type of approach to sexual assault leads to the under-reporting of incidents.
At Concordia, 12 sexual assaults were reported during the 2009-2010 school year, the most recent year data is available for, according to Michaud.
“We know that [based on the statistics of one in four], this doesn’t add up,” Michaud said.
While she said she would love to believe Concordia has an abnormally low rate of sexual assault incidents, she said she thinks it’s more likely the lack of support and wording on the website are acting as barriers to students who have been assaulted.
While the 2110 group remains flexible on the specifics of the support centre, Michaud said she wants to see a centre that has a great deal of student involvement.
She also hopes there will be an office that bears the final responsibility for ensuring there are resources available for survivors of sexual assault.
Michaud and the other members of the 2110 group will be petitioning and holding demonstrations until more dialogue with the university takes place.
“Having a sexual assault centre and also having a useful and clear policy should be a key priority,” she said. “People really can’t make the most of their education if their safety, security, and physical well-being are at risk.”
2110 centre radio project aim to teach about gender-based violence
The 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy is taking the next step in its mandate of promoting equality and empowerment by continuing its Blue Print Project. The initiative, which began on Oct. 11 and will continue until April 17, is a collaborative effort between CKUT Radio and the 2110 Centre with the goal of raising awareness about various gender-based violence issues affecting women from different backgrounds.
It is our goal to create a sustainable structure for a radio show that will be hosted and produced by young girls and women of various ages, backgrounds and experiences who have participated in the Blue Print Project, said Bianca Mugyenyi, the programming and campaigns coordinator.
In addition to the guest speakers, there are weekly workshops which alternate between teaching radio skills and technical training as well as exploring various gender-based issues.
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, a member of Montreal sex workers rights organization Stella will host a workshop in coordination with the Blue Print Project which, according to the centres website, will deal with systemic violence and discrimination and the effects of laws and policing on sex workers in Montreal.
The centre is also a haven for those interested in these issues and who wish to volunteer.
People often come to the centre to attend events, check out the books in our library, access confidential peer-to-peer support and find community,said Mugyenyi. People are often interested in volunteering, and there are a number of ways of getting involved. We have campaigns that are always in need of more volunteers, we have a peer-to-peer support program that also centres on volunteers.
The goal is to educate and help as many people as possible with regards to gender issues. One of the ways that the centre does so is by opening its doors to housing events.
The centre acquired a new space on 1500 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West to host events, meetings, gatherings and to deal with campaigns such as their ongoing campaign to create a sexual assault centre at Concordia.
Having two spaces allows all aspects of the centre to flourish and ensures peer support appointments are confidential,said Mugyenyi
Gender Advocacy Boot Camp
Kaylie Whitcher — October 28, 2011
An especially lively and inviting atmosphere set the tone for Trans 101, a lecture from the Peer Support and Advocacy training program from the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy on Oct. 20.
The energy being generated by those present was inspiring, and it manifested itself as a show of genuine interest in personal understanding and how to help others.
PSA coordinator Gabrielle Bouchard and Concordia graduate student Fabien Rose established a comfortable discussion during the lecture, defining terms related to gender identity and Trans people.
They created an atmosphere open for comments, questions or anecdotes that would help both the trainers and public attendants to better understand sensitive issues or potentially offensive situations.
This year, the Centre attracted 25 volunteers, an impressive increase from the 10 or so volunteers of previous events.
The training program includes both lectures and training sessions offered by Bouchard, and allows participants that graduate from the program to become volunteers for the Centre.
Missing and murdered aboriginal women remembered: Sisters in Spirit march despite funding cuts
Henry Gass, October 6, 2011
The sixth annual Montreal Sisters in Spirit Memorial March and Vigil went ahead Tuesday, almost a year after the federal government pulled the funding meant to support the nationwide event.
Bridget Tolley, whose mother was struck and killed by a Sûreté du Québec police car in 2001, has helped organize the annual marches since 2005.
“We need to support the families, and we want to do whatever is possible to help the families. So tonight is for them, and we’re going to continue and remember our missing and murdered aboriginal women,” said Tolley to the crowd of almost 300 people.
Sisters in Spirit, a group within the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), helped organize the marches every year until their funding was cut. The group also compiled data and research on missing and murdered native women in Canada. Until 1980, no such records existed in any form.
Today there are nearly 600 confirmed cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, a member of Missing Justice – the aboriginal rights advocacy group that organized Tuesday’s march – said in an interview with The Daily that the government’s justification for pulling the funding was that “no more research was needed.”
The government has since folded the Sisters in Spirit database into a national database called Evidence in Action under the RCMP. Rolbin-Ghanie said the new database was “not in any way specific to native women.”
“And this is after the largest year of Sisters in Spirit vigils ever. Last year there were 86 – and even one down in Nicaragua – and the name Sisters in Spirit was really becoming well known. And this is when the government decides to yank all the funding,” said Rolbin-Ghanie.
One of the government’s stipulations in removing the funding was that NWAC could no longer use the name Sisters in Spirit. In response, members of Sisters in Spirit formed the group Families of Sisters in Spirit, who continue to help organize events to promote awareness around missing and murdered aboriginal women. This year, 51 vigils have taken place.
Ellen Gabriel, former president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association, said the government’s decision to move the funding from NWAC to the RCMP was especially problematic.
“[The RCMP are] the ones, the culprits, who have, through their apathy, done nothing to improve this situation,” said Gabriel.
Harvey Michele, an indigenous rights activist from the Ojibway Nation north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, said that six years of marches and vigils had not had much of a concrete effect on the rate of missing and murdered native women in Canada.
“More financial and human resources need to… look at the policy development, policy review, and empower the aboriginal women’s groups to examine their issues,” he said.
Rolbin-Ghanie noted that media and other institutions are starting to note the systemic nature of the problem, not “just isolated incidents of violence.”
“The pillars of Canadian society, what we consider to be integral, like the court system, the media, the government, and the police forces are definitely still profound contributors to the problem in a number of ways. So there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she added.
Activism, Aboriginal Women & Alternative Ideas: Andrea Smith speaks at ConU
Megan Dolski, October 3, 2011
Violence against aboriginal women is a problem in Canada, and according to Andrea Smith, it is not one that can be understood, studied or solved as an issue in and of itself.
“Sexual violence is a tool by which Native people become inherently dirty, and by extension inherently rapeable,” she said, further explaining that a similar phenomenon occurs with Native land.
Smith is an intellectual, a feminist, an anti-violence activist, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and an associate professor at the University of California, and she is considered an expert on indigenous women’s rights.
She believes that violence against aboriginal women is intrinsically related to colonial violence—and that an inability to link the two is a roadblock to progress. Smith spoke to a jam-packed auditorium in Concordia’s Hall Building last Friday, giving a talk titled Violence Against Native Women and Struggles for the Land.
The event was jointly organized by activist groups Missing Justice and Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, as part of the centre’s two-week-long series, Another Word for Gender: An Intro to Feminist Action and Organizing.
Smith explained that governments and “the state” are often portrayed as a solution to both the issue of violence against Native women and colonial violence, when they are actually at the root of the problem.
She identified a disparity in the distribution of wealth as a fundamental issue with today’s society, which results in a phenomenon she called the “pyramid system.” This reality is such that 95 per cent of the population owns five per cent of the wealth in the United States, and the numbers aren’t much different in Canada.
“The bad news is that they have all the money and the guns—but the good news it that there are a lot more of us then them,” she said. “That is our strength: the power of people.”
But Smith pointed out that the “sneaky” five per cent have found a way from preventing the 95 per cent from banding together.
“They come to an indigenous group and say, ‘Hey, you look cool and interesting and spiritual to us, so if you can prove how cool and interesting and spiritual you are, we will recognize you, give you a grant, give you money, give you something that you asked for.’”
The catch is that this group must then prove that they are cooler, more spiritual and more interesting and oppressed than the others, thus creating a culture of competition rather than camaraderie among the oppressed.
In acknowledging this shortcoming, Smith explained that it is participation from the masses that is needed to instigate change.
She pointed out that activism doesn’t necessarily require hundreds of hours of one’s time—all it takes is one hour each from hundreds of people. She continued to say that no one needs to completely separate themselves from corporate institutions, but rather that we simply need to strive for alternative ideas and solutions.
“It’s really just trial and error. People feel like they have to wait for instructions, but you really just need to go for it,” she said.
Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, who spoke on behalf of Missing Justice, a grassroots organization that meets, plans events, and pressures the government on issues related to missing and murdered aboriginal women, said one of the organization’s goals is to draw the links between native women and the endless struggles for land between First Nations of Canada and the Canadian government.
“When someone like Andrea Smith comes and draws a very large number of people the way she did today, the information gets taken in more widely, and can change the way a more diverse group thinks and interacts with the world,” she said.
Bianca Mugyenyi, the programming and campaigns coordinator at the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, was personally inspired by Smith and her idea that activism should be accessible and practiced by everyone.
“Her approach is really inter sectional. She looks at problems from so many different perspectives—and I think that is something really powerful.”
But regardless of Mugyenyi, Rolbin-Ghanie and a slew of audience members describing Smith and her ideas as inspirational, she herself says otherwise.
“I don’t think I’m particularly interesting,” Smith says. “I mean, I don’t see myself as being particularly significant. I’ve just listened to cool people that have listened to other cool people. It’s really together that we become inspirational.”
The Sixth Annual Sisters in Spirit Memorial March and Vigil for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women will take place Oct. 4 at 6:00 p.m. at Cabot Square, on the corner of Atwater St. and Ste. Catherine St. W.
A ”Culture of Silence” Around Sexual Assault
Natascia L — August 15,2011
Concordia University does not have its own sexual assault centre, nor does it have an exclusive and explicit policy addressing sexual assault. These two facts are little known to Concordia students but all too obvious to those who have been victims of such abuse.
“I think people tend to assume Concordia’s a really progressive institution and, so, we must have better policies and resources, and we don’t,” says Laura Ellyn. “We don’t.” Ellyn, a Concordia print media and women’s studies student, began heading up the Concordians for a Safer University Community campaign in April for a sexual assault centre on the Concordia campus. The campaign is being primarily orchestrated by the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, a student-run group that promotes gender equality and empowerment.
The Centre wishes to expand the capacity of its current Mackay Street location to house a multi-dimensional sexual assault centre by the end of November. “I’d like to see it primarily be a place for survivor support work,” says Ellyn. A 24-hour crisis hotline, resource library, full-time trauma counselors and support groups are all destined elements of the proposed centre. They will serve to fill what Ellyn considers a serious void in survivor support at Concordia.
Currently, there does not exist a support network on campus geared specifically toward sexual assault victims, and the procedure for handling such cases is inconsistent across the university’s departments and bodies. For example, while health services follows a strict confidentiality policy, campus security forwards all reports to the police—whether the victim wants the police involved or not. Ellyn is particularly critical of this last method, which she says disrespects survivor autonomy.
Anaïs Van Vliet agrees: “Being supportive of someone is also allowing them to identify for themselves the kind of support that they want, and our job as allies and supporters is to support them (victims of sexual assault) through whatever avenue of support that they’re choosing, even if that’s choosing not to seek support at all.” Van Vliet is the external representative of the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS). It has served as a model for the 2110 Centre’s project in more ways than one.
SACOMSS grew out of the McGill Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which was formed in 1988 after a shocking gang rape at the Zeta Psi frat house alerted the student body to a prevailing problem of sexual assault on campus. The centre itself was founded in 1991 with the commitment to provide wide-ranging survivor support services, and to closely examine the way in which the university addresses the issue of sexual assault as a whole.
Van Vliet and Ellyn agree that universities are not breeding grounds for sexual assault in and of themselves. But in improperly dealing with—or avoiding addressing at all—the issue of sexual assault, large institutions like universities perpetuate this systemic societal problem and the myths associated with it.
“I think that prevention, for one, is often talked about in terms of the onus being on people not to get assaulted,” explains Van Vliet of universities inadequate approach to increasing awareness. “So, prevention is often viewed as a thing where it’s the responsibility of the targets; not the responsibility of people not to assault.” Such is seen on Concordia’s Security Department web site, which contains only four tips for protecting oneself from being sexually assaulted: one suggests to “avoid isolated and dimly lit areas” and the other three encourage safe drinking.
Concordia and McGill’s prevention strategies are also overly influenced by the gender binary. “I think the gender politics of sexual assault is often boiled down into a really simplistic understanding of survivors as always being women and perpetrators as always being men,” says Ellyn, before adding that while statistics show this is true the majority of the time, focusing too narrowly on this scenario ignores a significant percentage of victims. SACOMSS is one of the only sexual assault centres in Canada to offer services to transgendered individuals, transsexuals and those who don’t identify in the gender binary at all.
The 2110 Centre plans to do the same. It also wants to follow the lead of SACOMSS’ Outreach Branch in encouraging an open dialogue about sexuality, consent, sexual assault and the myths surrounding it. The 2110 Centre has been hosting movie nights this summer with several films focusing on the issue of sexual assault. Ellyn also has plans for a speakers’ series in September and orientation week workshops geared at student clubs looking to organize safer, more open events.
Ellyn hopes these actions will force the university administration to face its past (and current) negligence in “confronting rape culture” on campus. The campaign’s blog explains this reluctance to acknowledge the extent of the sexual assault problem on campus is particularly obvious in its minimal policy on the issue. What policy does exist uses euphemistic terms and, like that of McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, packages this form of abuse with several others.
“I think that there’s a sense that if it’s dealt with directly, then people might get the impression that there’s a problem at Concordia with sexual assault and people are really, really afraid of that,” says Ellyn. Pressure to improve Concordia’s policy and procedures regarding sexual assault is an integral component of the proposed centre, and an area in which SACOMSS has already seen success at McGill. It also offers support to students, staff and faculty in navigating the university’s policies and procedures, a service Ellyn aspires her centre to possess.
But first the centre must get off the ground. Ellyn’s campaigning has been met with a lot of support from the Concordia Student Union and the previous Dean of Students, Elizabeth Morey. Other members of the administration, notably campus security, have taken less kindly to the proposal. Ellyn says they do not perceive a problem with sexual assault on campus and, therefore, no need for a sexual assault centre. But in Van Vliet’s experience with SACOMSS, statistics should not play a role in a sexual assault centre’s existence: “The way that we feel about offering services is that if we’ve been open for one person to get the support that they needed, then we’ve done our job.”
To get involved with the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy’s campaign, contact Laura Ellyn by phone at 514-848-2424, ext. 7431 or by email at email@example.com.
The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill’s Students Society can be found in the basement of the Shatner University Centre at 3480 McTavish Street, Room B27. They can be contacted at 514-398-8500.