Clorianne Augustin, a youth worker based in Montreal poses outside her home in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Clorianne Augustin, a youth worker based in Montreal poses outside her home in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Quebec students push for law to stop sexual violence in elementary and high schools

Group says status quo isn’t working

Sophie was 15 years old when she says her history teacher made comments about her breasts in front of the entire class.

She reported what happened to a support staff member at her high school. But instead of being taken seriously and getting support, she said the employee told her the teacher didn’t mean anything bad by what he said.

“It was like they were trying to trivialize my situation and (tell me) that in the end, I don’t need to get upset, I don’t need to be shocked, I don’t need to be frustrated by it,” said Sophie, which is not her real name. The Montreal woman, now 20, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of her allegations.

“Well no, it’s not normal. It’s not normal to trivialize and normalize that situation,” she said in a recent interview.

Sophie is part of a group of current and former Quebec high school students who are demanding the provincial government adopt a law specifically targeting sexual violence at elementary and high schools. They want those institutions to have clear protocols to respond to incidents between students or between a student and teacher or other adult in the school.

Quebec’s Education Department, however, says there is already a legal framework in place to protect children against violence.

Sophie and her group are undaunted. They say the status quo isn’t working and that Quebec students are too afraid to come forward when they are sexually harassed, abused or assaulted by peers or staff in schools.

Their campaign for a provincial law dates back a few years, but it recently regained momentum after a wave of public denunciations of sexual violence began on social media across Quebec in July.

Clorianne Augustin, a Montreal youth worker who supports the students’ call for a law, says schools fail to take sexual violence seriously.

She said educators often do not respond quickly when a student comes forward to disclose abuse, either because they are overworked or they are uncomfortable and don’t have the necessary training.

“The young person is stuck with the psychological ramifications,” Augustin said in recent interview. “Some youth told me, ’I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to walk next to my abuser. I don’t want to be surrounded by people who are going to tell me that I wasn’t supposed to denounce.’ … All these repercussions are serious.”

A spokeswoman for Quebec’s Education Department said the government has no plans to pass a law to specifically deal with sexual violence in elementary and high schools.

“Intervention protocols for violence, including sexual violence, are already required in elementary and high schools,” the department’s spokeswoman, Esther Chouinard, said in an email. She pointed to the province’s Education Act, which makes it mandatory for public and private schools in Quebec to have a plan to prevent bullying and violence in all its forms and provide support for students.

Under Quebec’s current legislation, principals are tasked with drafting a plan to address violence, which must be approved by their schools’ governing boards.

But Augustin said the current system is insufficient, as students continue to say it is difficult to denounce sexual violence because the subject remains taboo and school staff are not trained to respond. “That means it’s not working,” she said.

READ MORE: B.C. Lions urge high school students to make a difference

And while Chouinard said specific laws aren’t needed for elementary and high schools, Quebec passed legislation in 2017 requiring post-secondary institutions adopt anti-sexual violence protocols. That law requires staff be trained on know how to respond to sexual violence allegations and provide services to victims should they wish to make a complaint.

In January, the province’s largest public school board, the Commission scolaire de Montreal, adopted intervention protocols regarding sexual violence in its elementary and high schools.

That board, which counts over 16,000 staff and about 114,000 students, says it plans to train hundreds of educators who work closely with students “to welcome and listen to all victims of sexual violence in order to direct them to appropriate resources.”

Augustin said if the province’s universities and junior colleges have a specific law designed to protect students, ”I don’t understand why high school and elementary school students can’t also benefit from a law.”

For Sophie, a law would help make sure students of all ages across Quebec feel safe in their schools — and protect the next generation of students from experiencing the same type of sexual abuse she faced.

“School is my second home and I would like to feel safe there,” she said. “I would like my younger brother to feel safe there, and if something were to happen to him, that he is able to denounce it and feel supported afterwards.”

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

EducationSchoolssexual harassment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Sadie, a long-term care resident at Mountainview Lodge in Kitimat was among those who got the COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination clinic held Thursday (Jan. 21). Northern Health photo
Mountainview Lodge gets first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines

The first vaccination clinic was held Thursday (Jan. 21)

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Haisla Nation Council photo
COVID-19 vaccine supply delayed for Kitamaat Village

Supply could not be guaranteed for the Village with the current national Pfizer-BioNTech shortage

Bus routes for CMSD82 students in Cablecar and Kitamaat Village have been temporarily changed for Jan. 21 and 22. (Black Press file photo)
Temporary school bus route changes for Cablecar, Kitamaat Village

The two routes will be combined for Jan. 21 and 22 due to a bus driver shortage

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

Most Read