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New UBC president commends ‘thoughtful’ sex-assault report

President Santa Ono released a report on UBC’s response to sexual assaults on Monday.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Members of an expert panel tasked with examining the University of British Columbia's approach to sex assaults say the real work can now begin, after the institution published a critical report the group submitted months earlier.

President Santa Ono released the 52-page report to students, faculty and staff on Monday. He thanked the UBC-appointed panel for its hard work and said he had passed the document on to a committee working on the school's new sexual assault policy.

"I want to commend the University Sexual Assault Panel for a thoughtful, comprehensive report that will help inform dialogue and spark further engagement on campus as we work to improve our policies and practices for addressing and responding to sexual assault," he said in a statement.

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The report was submitted to the president's office in June. It urges the university to undertake sweeping changes to counter the "general mistrust" on campus and the perception that UBC has downplayed the severity of the issue and avoided responsibility.

UBC started creating a standalone sexual assault policy earlier this year after allegations it delayed taking action on multiple complaints about a male PhD student.

Ono, whose term began in mid-August, said in an email to the campus community that UBC has made "significant strides" to improve its policies and practices for addressing and responding to sexual assaults.

A draft policy was published in June. Public consultations on the document will now be extended until Oct. 31 to allow for reflection on the panel's recommendations, Ono said.

The president said he has also asked a small working group to make recommendations to the UBC executive about the appropriate processes, infrastructure and resources to best serve its community and support people who have been affected.

Spokeswoman Susan Danard said membership of the working group was still being determined, but it will likely include staff from student services, legal counsel and human resources.

The university is also hosting sexual assault policy information sessions on both its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses this fall to provide an overview of the draft and answer questions.

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Last week, some panel members questioned why the report — which was submitted on June 20 — had not been published. Lucia Lorenzi, a PhD graduate with expertise in sexual assault, said she was frustrated at the lack of communication about why it remained under wraps.

But Sara-Jane Finlay, associate vice-president of equity and inclusion, said it would have been ineffective to release the findings in the summer when students and faculty were away. It was submitted at a time when interim president Martha Piper's term was just ending and Ono's term had not yet begun, she added.

Lorenzi said on Monday that the panel's recommendations are now in the university's hands, but the campus community must continue to ensure UBC doesn't "slide this under the rug."

"We need to hold UBC's feet to the fire and say, 'All right, you've released the report and now we're also going to hold you accountable,"' she said.

Natalie Clark, a social work professor at Thompson Rivers University, said she is eager to focus on the report's many recommendations, aimed at institutional accountability, education, prevention and a "survivor-centred" response to reports and disclosures.

"The conversation can now start to be about what's in the report, rather than the delay," she said, adding the panel expects to meet with Ono on Wednesday.

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The six-member panel spoke with about 50 people and received emails from 40 others about the university's handling of sexual assaults. It heard from many people that UBC had failed to demonstrate accountability.

The report's recommendations included new disciplinary processes for students and faculty accused of sexual assault, standardized timelines for responding to complaints and a centralized office to co-ordinate response.

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