The provincial government recently came under fire from some members of the public after amending the wording of a motion about sexual violence.
Last fall, Moncton Northwest MLA Ernie Steeves put forth a motion asking that the government require all universities and college campuses in the province to have “a stand-alone sexual violence policy” within one year’s time.
However, the Liberal government voted against the motion and instead passed an amendment that only ‘recommended’ the province’s post-secondary institutions adopt stand-alone sexual violence policies, removing the more binding word of ‘require’—a move that many opponents feel stripped the policy of its strength.
Steeves said he was shocked when his motion—which was put to a standing vote—failed to pass, especially considering the words of MLAs like Pam Lynch from the Opposition, who stood up and shared her own experience with sexual violence, which Steeves said was “very powerful, very moving, very heart rendering and just unbelievably sad.”
“We were listening to the speeches on our side and from the government side as well; there were people that were agreeing, saying yes this is absolutely needed—and yet 24 people on the Liberal side stood up and voted against it,” said Steeves.
Steeves got the idea for his resolution during the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) Advocacy Week, held this past November. An annual event, Advocacy Week is an opportunity for the NBSA—whose board of directors is comprised of representatives from all five of its post-secondary member-organizations—to present its annual “advocacy asks” to members of provincial political parties, senior civil servants and external third party stakeholders.
According to interim executive director of the NBSA, Sam Titus, requesting a universal standard for sexual assault policies across post-secondary institutions was one of their three big advocacy asks this year; the other two focused on mental health and indigenization.
“Our board is actually unique this year in the sense that this is the first time that we’ve ever had gender parity on our board. Both our chair and vice-chair are women, and so this allowed us to branch off from some of the more traditional conversations around tuition and debt.” said Titus.
Titus said Steeves was one of the people they met with over the week and seemed quite taken with their policy, which asks for a universal standard including permanent funding structures for sexual violence support staff on-campus and a separate body formed for the purpose of reviewing complaints related to sexual violence.
According to Steeves—who is the Opposition’s post-secondary education critic—he was drawn to the NBSA’s policy on sexual assault because he believed it was a request that he might be able to help them with more-so than other, more financially-centred policies.
“When you’re in opposition it’s awful hard to come up with any money; we don’t control the purse strings at all, but social policy is something that we can [influence],” said Steeves, adding that his 17-year-old son’s future post-secondary plans were also a source of inspiration.
However, Titus explains that despite the motion’s failure—which was a close replica of the policy resolution put forward by the NBSA—the NBSA is not finished with its advocacy efforts regarding sexual violence.
“We had been told throughout the entirety of the week […] that this session of the legislature was always going to be a short one,” said Titus, who also said the upcoming provincial election influenced the ability for new items to be added to the provincial mandate.
“There was a brief moment of excitement when we were like ‘holy jeez, we might get this; that would be incredible if this came through so much quicker and sooner than we were expecting,’” he added. “Obviously there’s a sense of disappointment at an opportunity lost perhaps—but overall this doesn’t change our approach or our impression of this at all.”
According Roger Melanson, Minister of post-secondary education, the government is aware of the serious nature of sexual violence and are working to ensure the issue is addressed.
“All public universities and colleges in our province either have a policy or are in the process of developing a policy, which we are very pleased to see,” said Melanson in a statement. “We are in very regular contact with student organizations, and will continue work with the student organizations and public post-secondary education institutions to look at the best ways to address this important issue.”
Photo Credits: Bradley Parker