In Spring 2021, McGill launched the new Office for Mediation and Reporting. As part of a revision of its Policy on Harassment and Discrimination, the University created the OMR to independently and impartially oversee mediation and investigations of reports of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence. The OMR’s associate director, Sinead Hunt, talked to the Reporter about how the OMR came into being, as well as the process by which members of the McGill community can file a report with the Office if they experience harassment, discrimination, or sexual violence.
Can you talk about that process which led to the OMR’s creation?
The creation of the OMR was proposed by the working group that periodically revises the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination. The working group has University-wide representation, and every three years at minimum it engages in a broad and extensive consultation process to try to ensure the policy responds to the community’s needs, concerns and experiences with respect to harassment and discrimination.
The working group engaged in the revision process over the course of 2020 and 2021, and it made a number of significant proposed revisions to the policy, one of which included the creation of the OMR as a way to improve the University’s capacity to respond to and adequately resolve reports of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence. In May, McGill Senate and the Board of Governors approved those revisions, and they’re now in effect.
What are OMR’s key goals?
One is awareness raising among the McGill community. Our community is very large. It’s spread across different campuses, and it’s comprised of students, staff, and faculty. The idea is to create a central site to enhance communications about where McGill University community members can go to obtain information about these policies, and where they can go to file a formal report.
Another key goal: We hope to strengthen our capacity and resources around the resolution of formal reports. A key change made to the policy that was proposed by the working group was to appoint designated assessors to offer mediation and investigation services, so these designated assessors are either employees of the OMR, or they are external assessors who conduct these investigations.
What services does OMR provide?
We offer non-judgmental and confidential one-on-one consultations to any member of the McGill community on matters of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. During these consultations, we provide information about the policies, what processes are available, how to file a report, and what to expect after filing a report. We also provide information about other University resources.
We also try to break down barriers that individuals may feel with all the different University offices – not knowing which office does what, who should they contact, and feeling they have to take it upon themselves to always reach out. So we try to directly facilitate connections that individuals might want to make.
We also engage in outreach work. This includes providing information sessions to community members and participating in policy review processes.
This is the first academic year that the OMR is in place. What are some of the ways that the OMR is promoting itself?
We’re offering workshops to students through Teaching and Learning Services. It’s advertised through SkillSets, but they’re open to both undergraduate and graduate students.
We’re also offering sessions to staff members, both academic and administrative. These are advertised through Organizational Development (OD) or on the Equity at McGill website.
For example, we have a good relationship with Students Advocacy, which is part of the legal information clinic at McGill. So we’re going to go in and speak with the student advocates specifically about the OMR. We’re trying to do some targeted outreach.
It’s a big community, we recognize a lot of people don’t know about the OMR, so we really do want to try and improve communication.
What happens when someone files a report?
When we receive formal reports, we conduct an initial review. Part of the review of a formal report includes an assessment: Are immediate measures necessary at that time to address any safety concerns? Is the reporting party requesting any accommodations that we can put into place to facilitate their participation?
When a formal report proceeds, then we can provide investigation or mediation services.
Who can file a report?
The University’s policies cover all members of the McGill community. When reporting an incident or incidents, it’s important that there is some University context; we sometimes refer to that as a nexus. That doesn’t mean that the incident occurred on campus necessarily — off-campus or even incidents that occur in a digital space can be considered — but we’re looking for some connection to the University.
Is there a time limit for filing a report?
With respect to sexual violence, there is no time limit for filing a report. For harassment and discrimination matters, the time limit has been extended. Previously, a report had to be filed within 12 months of the most recent incident. Now, that has been extended to 24 months. There’s also the extended scope of the policy to allow for confidential and third-party reporting.
Another important revision is permitting former students to file a report of harassment and/or discrimination if they name a respondent who exercised academic authority over that student, and they filed a report within the time delay. The respondent must also be a University member at the time of filing and at the time of the incident or incidents. This revision was made in response to feedback from many students that it is difficult to file a report naming an academic staff member as the respondent when they are a current student.
What is the difference between the OMR and the Office for Sexual Violence Response Support and Education (OSVRSE)?
OSVRSE provides unequivocal support to any member of McGill, and it is not necessary to file a report to access their services. OSVRSE provides direct support services to any member of McGill, they play a very important education and awareness raising role, and they help individuals to access accommodations. They can also give information about reporting through the McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence, or external reporting processes. A key difference is the OMR is responsible for receiving and conducting intake for formal reports of sexual violence filed through McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence. OSVRSE does not receive formal reports.
But I do want to underscore that the work of the OMR and OSVRSE is complementary, so we work together as necessary and, of course, always conditioned on an individual consenting to these offices working together to best support them.
How might OMR and OSVRSE work together?
There are different ways. Someone may reach out to OSVRSE first to make a disclosure. At that point they may be seeking support or accommodations and they’re not sure they want to make a formal report. But that may change with time. We often find there is a time delay between when someone reaches out for information or support and when they file a formal report, if they do so. In that case, OSVRSE will not say to the person, “Here’s the email address for the OMR, go ahead and contact them.” Instead, OSVRSE will put that individual directly in touch with the OMR with that person’s consent. In practice, we find that an individual may seek support from OSVRSE throughout a Policy process, which I think can be very helpful.
It also works the other way. Sometimes someone will reach out to the OMR and think that we are a support office. What’s really helpful is when people go to book a consultation, they have the option of taking the first step of sending us a note about why they’re reaching out before we speak. That can be really helpful because we can see right at the outset that this person is really seeking support, rather than seeking information about filing a formal report. We can go ahead and contact them and be very transparent about the work of the OMR and the work of OSVRSE, and again connect them directly to OSVRSE, if that’s what makes sense for that person.
The other way we work very closely together is when immediate measures or accommodations may need to be put into place for a survivor. Again, each office, with the consent of the person, shares information and works with the relevant University authorities to help put those measures or accommodations in place.
How can people contact the OMR?
They can book an appointment through the OMR’s website. This is a revision to our previous process, because we had heard from individuals that sometimes it felt like a barrier to making an appointment when they had to take it upon themselves to call or email the office. Now they can just go ahead and book that appointment directly themselves if they prefer to do so via our bookings system.
When we meet with people, we are very clear that a consultation itself is not a formal report. Some people hesitate to reach out because they feel that once they share information, it will start a process that they may not want to start, so we’re very clear that the decision to proceed rests with the person themselves.
If someone does go ahead and file a report, then we do an initial review, and it can either go to a mediation or investigation process. Again, the decision about which process is started is up to the individual who has filed the report, so they choose whether they would like to try mediation process, or have their report go through an investigation process.
How long can it take from the time someone fills out the form for a consultation, to the time they meet with someone from OMR?
We try to be as transparent as possible about this. When someone reaches out to book a consultation, they can go into the bookings calendar and we typically have appointments every day of the week. If they can’t find something that works for them, they can absolutely email us and let us know their availabilities and we’ll reach back out, but I would say it takes, on average, three to five days to get that first appointment.
When it comes to the processes in place, when a formal report has been filed, we have timelines we have to respect. It differs, depending which policy we’re talking about, but typically a mediation process is going to be resolved within 30 days or, because mediation is a voluntary process, the parties can agree to an extension if they think there’s they are making substantial progress.
It’s different when we come to an investigation that’s not a voluntary process, there are very fixed timelines. An investigation through the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination can take up to 60 calendar days – so not business days. An investigation through the Policy against Sexual Violence can take up to 90 calendar days.
What is the mediation process like in practice?
In a nutshell, mediation is a voluntary process and it’s one in which parties decide whether they want to engage in or not, so even if the reporting party says, “I want to do mediation with this person”, we still need the other person to agree that they also want to participate, because the idea is that the parties are willing to have some kind of communication around the issues in question and to try to collaboratively come up with ideas and try to figure out, can we reach an agreement about how we’re going to move forward.
Mediation is also really flexible in the sense that the parties also have a say in how it proceeds, that is they don’t have to do a traditional sit-down, face-to-face mediation. Instead, they could try a “shuttle mediation” process. This is where communications go through the mediator, who speaks separately with the parties.
In summary, I would say mediation is a voluntary, collaborative, and good faith process for the parties themselves to identify the issues, solutions, and see if they can reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. This can be very empowering.
Can someone submit a formal report with the OMR, and file a complaint with police at the same time?
If an individual has submitted a report through the Policy and Harassment and Discrimination or the Policy Against Sexual Violence, that individual still retains their rights to pursue other internal or external recourses.
Can you talk more about the role of the new designated assessors?
We now have one full-time investigator at the University for matters of harassment and discrimination.
This is a shift from a previous model, which had been in place at the University for many years, of volunteer assessors. So now there is one full-time investigator for matters of harassment and discrimination, with the possibility of sending files externally as necessary. For matters of sexual violence, all files of sexual violence get sent to external special investigators.