Calls grow for Quebec laws to fight sexual violence in high schools after new allegations

More than a dozen parents and students alleging sexual violence at some Quebec high schools came together Friday to call for a law to prevent and fight the issue in secondary schools.

At a news conference Friday in Montreal, several young women and parents — some holding signs reading “No means no” and “#sexualassault awareness” — took turns speaking about their experiences, denouncing the way their school administration and boards handled allegations of sexual assault.

They, along with several politicians present, implored Education Minister Bernard Drainville to do more to clamp down on the problem.

“It’s been a while that we hear in the news, in the media, of all these cases of sexual assault in schools,” said Québec Solidaire MNA Ruba Ghazal.

“We see that protection for our teenagers [is lacking]… and this is not acceptable.”

Group of people at news conference outdoors
Québec Solidaire MNA Ruba Ghazal spoke at a rally Monday of parents and students in support of the party’s proposed legislation to combat sexual violence in schools. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Québec Solidaire tabled a bill in April meant to give high schools a framework to follow when it comes to dealing with sexual violence, including a complaint process, mandatory training and resources to support victims.

It got support from all opposition parties, but not the Coalition Avenir Québec government. It’s the second time Québec Solidaire has tried to pass a bill to prevent and combat sexual violence in education.

A similar law mandating sexual violence policies in universities and CEGEPs was passed in 2017.

CAQ won’t call vote on bill

In a statement to CBC, Drainville’s office said it is “very sensitive to the issues surrounding sexual violence in schools,” but the minister does not intend to call a vote on the bill.

Spokesperson Florence Plourde said it would allow time for the new provisions of the National Student Ombudsman to take effect, which will be as early as the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

The ombudsman, Jean-François Bernier, will be charged with handling all complaints from students and parents, including those concerning bullying, violence and sexual abuse against students attending an educational institution.

A person is holding sheets of paper.
Despite repeated requests, Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville does not intend to call a vote on a bill put forward by Québec Solidaire to put in place protocols to deal with cases of sexual violence in high schools. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Bernier must put in place “a comprehensive plan on sexual violence,” Plourde said, saying mandatory training for teachers on sexual violence has already been added.

“So before we jump into another law, we will give the student ombudsman a chance to prove himself,” said Plourde.

Recent accusations

The Friday news conference comes two weeks after a minor was arrested and charged in connection with allegations of sexual assaults at Massey-Vanier High School in Cowansville, Que.

Six students had spoken out against inappropriate behavior at the hands of the students. They said the situation had gone on for about a year and a half with no action from the school administration or the board.

The minor is facing almost a dozen charges, including harassment, assault, forcible confinement, attempted sexual assault, four counts of sexual assault, and three counts of sexual interference.

One parent on Friday said the systems in place failed his daughter and other students at Massey-Vanier.

Meanwhile, a former student and staff member of a Montreal-area high school also spoke out Friday about inappropriate behavior by a former staff member toward female students.

In an email to CBC, Montreal’s main French school service center, the Center de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM), said necessary action was taken in this case thanks to the testimony and denunciations sent to the school service centre.

The CSSDM said the employee was sent home as soon as his investigation began and resigned “before we could discharge him.”

In an interview with Le Devoir, which first reported on the case earlier this week, the staff member in question denied allegations that he intentionally behaved inappropriately.

Shortly after the allegations at these two high schools came to light, Drainville announced the launch of a “general” investigation into sexual misconduct in schools at the primary and secondary school level.

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