Ontario colleges and universities will have to update their sexual violence and harassment policies by next March to better support students who bring complaints forward.
The government said Thursday that the policies must ensure students who report sexual violence will not be disciplined for breaking a school's rules related to drug and alcohol use at the time of an alleged assault.
The policies also need to ensure students will not be asked "irrelevant questions" by school staff or investigators, such as inquiries related to their past sexual history or sexual expression.
"Our No. 1 priority is the safety of students — everyone should be able to pursue their studies on or off campus without worrying about sexual violence or harassment," said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities.
The new requirements were first proposed in January, with public consultations wrapping in mid-March.
The province said Thursday that colleges and universities will need to review their sexual violence policies and amend them by March 31, 2022.
The announcement came a day before students at Western University plan to walk out of classes to protest what they call a "culture of misogyny" on campus.
That event is being planned as police investigate allegations of sexual assault during the London, Ont., school's orientation week.
Western said Thursday that it has a "strong policy" in place that's in line with the requirements set out by the government.
"Sexual violence and assault on university campuses is unacceptable and protecting complainants is critical to addressing these issues," Western President Alan Shepard said in a statement.
"Western is focused on addressing the culture of sexual violence on campus and will be sharing more information on further changes we are making to ensure our campus is a safe place for all students and our entire community."
Eunice Oladejo, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and vice-president external affairs at the University Students' Council at Western, said she was encouraged to see the province implement recommendations from the student alliance.
"This past week has been a devastating reminder of the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence on our campuses and the work that still needs to be done to protect and support students across the province," said Oladejo.
Western and London police have said four women have come forward with formal complaints about being sexually assaulted on campus in recent days.
Police are also investigating allegations made on social media of mass drugging and sexual assaults at the Medway-Sydenham Hall residence on campus during orientation week.
The force has noted, however, that no one has come forward with a formal complaint on those online allegations.
Western has said it takes the recent allegations seriously, and that it is offering a wide variety of supports to students.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2021.
The Canadian Press