Between the Motions: AMS sexualized violence policy indefinitely postponed amid community concern

On August 29, AMS Council met over Zoom to further discuss revisions to its respectful workplace (PC1) and sexualized violence (PC2) policies after ongoing student critique and concerns.

Students first expressed concerns over PC1 and PC2 in April, and during an August 23 council meeting, students-at-large criticized PC2’s false claims clause.

PC1 and PC2 were first passed by the student society in 2019 and are required to be reviewed every two years. These policies have been under review since September 2021. In a May Council meeting, AMS President Esmé Decker said the society would "ideally" have the policies approved by September.

During the August 29 meeting, students affiliated with the Social Justice Centre (SJC) said that the policy draft will harm survivors if it passes.

Sienna Nargang-White, a coordinator for the SJC, criticized the PC2 draft for including a false claims clause and for its lack of substance-use amnesty and rape shield clauses.

PC2’s false claims clause allows the AMS to take “corrective action” for people who “intentionally make malicious and false allegations of Sexualized Violence.” During the August 29 council meeting, AMS President Esmé Decker said the policy has a false claims clause “to address the past history of PC1 and 2 being weaponized, particularly in retaliation to other PC 1 and 2 reports.”

“We deserve to have our voices heard,” said Nargang-White. “There are already a multitude of people who feel that they can't come forward in fear of not being believed and [the false claims clause] only exacerbates that.”

SJC chair Mariam Abdelaziz called on the AMS to table the motion to pass the policy drafts and place them under immediate review.

Abdelaziz also said UBC’s sexualized violence policy, SC17, includes a rape shield and substance-use amnesty clause and called on the AMS to create a policy that meets the “standard” of the university.

“This decision may not follow the AMS execs after they leave their positions, but the aftermath and the consequences of this verdict will fail those who are brave enough to reach out for help,” said Abdelaziz.

Luke Forrester, an educator at the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) also said the PC2 investigations and decision-making should be independent of the AMS through a third-party.

Clause 16 of the PC2 draft allows elected student leaders, like the AMS VP administration, VP finance and HR committee chair, to be the decision-makers on claims of sexual misconduct.

Forrester also said the draft’s removal of the rape shield clause, which prohibits including evidence or questioning complainants about prior sexual behaviour in decision-making processes, goes against section 276 of the Criminal Code of Canada. He also said rape shield clauses prevent retraumatizing survivors.

Decker said they appreciate student feedback and the policy will continue to develop throughout the academic year.

“Our team is committed to working and continuing work on these policies, making them more readable, more accessible and taking in this feedback and incorporating it as much as possible,” said Decker.

After an in-camera session about future Council safety, Council returned to vote on a motion to rescind the 2019 PC1 and PC2 policies and replace them with the new drafts.

Decker said passing these drafts is “just the beginning” and “a huge step forward from the 2019 policies.” She said further amendments can be made to the policy in the future and that decision-makers will receive training from specialists and will consult with experts during the process. Decker also said clauses 13.6 in PC1 and 11.7 in PC2 are substance-use amnesty clauses.

Holleh Hajibashi, a SASC educator, said SASC was not properly consulted the policy draft does not reflect SASC feedback. Decker said she “recently” met with SASC employees about this policy.

“This was not a consultation. This was a performance,” said Hajibashi. “The AMS counselor and the AMS students have a right to transparency and accountability.”

Savannah Sutherland, the interim SASC manager, said the SASC was only consulted about specific parts of the policy and did not receive a full draft at that point, and Caitlyn Doherty, the SASC support & advocacy coordinator said the SASC was only provided with a draft when providing feedback in a survey that was sent to AMS staff.

Nursing councillor Rhiannon Terpstra moved a motion to postpone the passing of PC1 and PC2 until further consultation can be had by the student society.

The motion to postpone the approval of PC1 and PC2 indefinitely passed with 13 votes in favour, 5 against and 3 abstentions.