CRARR calls for review of harassment policy

Fo Niemi (left), director of CRARR, with Mei Ling (right) in 2015. Mei Ling’s case was one of several complaints to the Quebec human rights commission. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

The civil rights organization is advising students to suspend ongoing internal complaints

A non-profit civil rights organization is urging Concordia University to fix what it considers to be inconsistent sexual harassment policies.

In a written statement issued on Friday, the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) also advised students currently filing a complaint internally at Concordia to immediately suspend their complaint.

Citing its work on multiple cases of discrimination against the university to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission—including
Mei Ling’s case in 2015 and Felicia’s case this year—CRARR said Concordia needs to improve the consistency of sexual harassment policies across the university to better protect victims of gender-based discrimination and other forms of harassment.

“We strongly encourage the university to immediately work with different stakeholders to harmonize these different policies and ensure that a single definition of sexual harassment that corresponds to the standard of the law is available to students and staff in Concordia’s complaints process,” said CRARR executive director Fo Niemi, in a written statement.

CRARR said the university’s Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG) did not address what they consider inconsistencies with several definitions of sexual harassment in different policies.

“The fact that there are different definitions at Concordia, all of which can be deemed to fall below established legal standards of sexual harassment, may give rise to the possibility that victims of sexual harassment have been inadequately treated in all human resource practices and student support services at Concordia,” said Katrina Sole-Kähler, a member of the CRARR Working Group reviewing Concordia’s harassment policies.

Specifically, CRARR is criticizing differences in Concordia’s 2016 policy regarding sexual violence—which covers all members of the Concordia community—and three other policy agreements: the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association collective agreement which covers all part time faculty; the university’s policy on harassment as outlined in 2011, which covers all staff, faculty members and university administration; and the 2010 update of the Code of Rights and Responsibilities which encompasses all members of the university.

However, Concordia senior advisor of external communications, Cléa Desjardins, said all of the university’s collective agreements are meant to be read together with all the university policies.

“The definition of sexual harassment in CUPFA collective agreement is not intended to limit the scope of what constitutes sexual harassment,” she added.

Desjardins also said that the recommendations from the university’s SAWG, which was established in 2015, included making a standalone policy on sexual violence update and “harmonize” the Code of Rights and Responsibilities with the new sexual violence policy.

“Currently, a revision of the Code of Rights is underway and any appropriate modifications of the Code will be made during this process,” she said.

In response to CRARR’s call for students to suspend ongoing internal complaints at Concordia, Desjardins said the university still encourages any member of the community who feels that they have been the victim of violence or harassment to seek support either with Sexual Assault Resource Centre, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities or the Campus Wellness and Support Services.

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