An external student advocacy organization, Students for Consent Culture Canada (SFCC), is behind UMSU’s recent lobbying push for the province to make changes to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) that it said will benefit survivors of sexual violence.
SFCC is “an organization dedicated to supporting anti-sexual violence advocacy and activism on campuses,” and has organizers and co-ordinators on campuses across Canada, including Allison Kilgour, a U of M law student and advocacy co-ordinator with SFCC.
UMSU president Jakob Sanderson and vice-president advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx met separately with Ralph Eichler, Manitoba’s minister of economic development and training, and Jamie Moses, the NDP MLA for St. Vital and official opposition critic for economic development and training, to discuss, among other things, the FIPPA proposal.
These proposals have been in the works since the lead up to the 2019 provincial election, where SFCC and UMSU called upon each of Manitoba’s political parties to commit to platforms making “updates to relevant sections within Manitoba’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Workplace Safety and Health Act — and workplace health and safety regulations more generally,” according to an article from UMSU’s Manitoba Elections 2019 series.
According to Bonner-Proulx, a “multi-pronged approach” is necessary when it comes to addressing sexual violence.
“One prong is tackling the province’s current privacy legislation […] in place that unfairly limits complainants from knowing the outcome of a formal investigation once completed as well as places limits on institutions for what they are able to disclose to future employers,” she said in an email.
In September, UMSU, in conjunction with SFCC, called upon Manitoba lawmakers to amend FIPPA to make it a simpler process for sexual violence survivors to obtain information on the outcome of their case. They say this process is hindered by the legislation that is currently in place and consequently has a negative impact on sexual violence survivors.
“We feel that by not informing relevant parties after the investigation has concluded that it only makes a very cumbersome […] process even more difficult and could discourage those who have experienced sexual violence to come forward,” Bonner-Proulx said.
“We see this change as one that will work to ensure faculty and staff who have a past record of infractions [and breaches] of this nature will be held to account with new [and] future potential employers and simultaneously work toward ensuring the safety of our campus and our students when making new hires.”
The provincial government has issued a mandate letter to institutions addressing sexual violence — according to a statement from Ross Romaniuk, a spokesperson for Eichler — but it does not indicate any support for a FIPPA amendment in favour of sexual violence survivors having easier access to information on their cases.
“This is a priority for our government to support student success by ensuring they have a safe and appropriate learning environment,” wrote Romaniuk. “Our expectation is that institutions will align their codes of conduct and harassment policies to ensure the highest level of protection for students and staff. A safe and healthy environment to study and work must be standard and not the exception.”
Student advocacy regarding sexual violence is critical in developing policy geared at preventing sexual violence and supporting sexual violence survivors, according to Moses.
“A lot of times, policy is driven by young people,” he said, “and we want to make sure that UMSU and all the students feel free that they should have their voice on this issue.”
The proposed changes to FIPPA will be a subject of debate at the next provincial NDP convention that will be taking place in the spring, said Moses.
“We’re actually going to be debating this issue and other issues on our NDP convention floor,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to hearing what their debate is and […] seeing what we can do to improve it.”
“I think that there are ways for us to make sure that sexual assault survivors actually can be informed, and I think that is an important part of it.”