Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Sexual Violence Policy review update: Independent Review Panel on campus in March

March 1st, 2019

Members of an Independent Review Panel (IRP), who are tasked with reviewing the StFX Sexual Violence Policy, will be on campus in mid-March and everyone interested in providing input is invited and encouraged to do so. 

The committee, external to StFX, is comprised of Joanna Birenbaum, a Toronto-based lawyer with extensive expertise in sexual violence issues, university processes, human rights tribunals and professional discipline bodies; Elaine Craig, an associate professor, Schulich School of Law, at Dalhousie University, who teaches and researches in the areas of sexual assault law, constitutional law, criminal law ethics, law and sexuality, feminist legal theory and queer legal theory; and Maria Dugas, who completed her master’s of law at the Schulich School of Law in 2018, and was the first African Nova Scotian to clerk for the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. They are working with the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response (CCLISAR), which StFX has engaged to undertake this review. 

Their mandate is to review and assess StFX’s Sexual Violence Policy, consult with members of the university community as well as an expert advisory group, and make recommendations to best ensure that StFX’s sexual violence practices and procedures are responsive to those who report experiences of sexual harm, is trauma-informed, and, procedurally fair.

“Every member of the community has an opportunity to contribute to their information gathering process, which is great to see,” says Margie McKinnon, co-chair of StFX’s Sexual Violence Prevention Committee and StFX’s Director of Health, Counselling and Accessible Learning.

The IRP will be on campus between March 13-15 for consultations, which will include interviews with individuals and groups at StFX, such as representatives of student groups, staff of university departments that respond to sexual violence and discrimination under StFX’s current policies, the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, and faculty associations and unions.  

Interested individuals or groups who want to speak with the panel are asked to email Margaret Elliott, the StFX Sexual Violence Prevention Project Co-ordinator, at to set up a time. Community members can also provide thoughts and comments by email at

Updates on the panel’s progress can also be found on the Visible at X website at

“I’m excited to work with the Independent Review Panel,” Ms. McKinnon says.

“We are working closely with our partners, locally and provincially, to have a strong, consistent response when sexual violence happens, in supporting survivors. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our community response to sexual violence,” she says. 

“The expertise of the panel, I except, will help us greatly by providing guidance and direction that will help us to respond in ways that support survivors, while also respecting the legal process.”

StFX Head of Student Services Andrew Beckett says with the range of expertise the review panel brings, it’s a great opportunity to build some credibility around the policies and procedures at StFX moving forward. 

It’s also a chance to help inform the sector generally across the country. The issue of sexual violence is an area that all universities are grappling with, he says, and this is a chance for StFX to play a lead role in current best practices. 

The IRP is set up in a way that is practical and actionable, Mr. Beckett says. It’s designed that when the final draft report is received in June, the university should be able to turn around and implement a new policy. 

Mr. Beckett says there has been a lot of confidence and positive response expressed from the campus community in terms of the approach StFX is taking. “That’s been great to see.” 

In the fall of 2018, following media reports related to a sexual violence case, the university was asked by members of the campus community to broadly consider cultural and policy related factors that could help address ongoing sexual violence issues in the community.  

StFX has engaged with the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response (CCLISAR) to conduct a review of the university’s sexualized violence policies and procedures. This review will assess the operation of StFX’s Sexual Violence Policy and other university policies and procedures with which it intersects, to ensure that StFX has effective practices and procedures that are.

The review will result in a newly drafted Sexual Violence Policy and a supplementary report highlighting further recommendations or follow-up issues. These documents will be public and the process will involve five stages, including the in-person consultations. 

Once complete, a draft version of the policy and supplementary report will be circulated to the Expert Advisory Group (EAG). This group will meet in Halifax for a one-day workshop to discuss and provide advice on these documents and to offer any suggestion. In May, the IRP will conduct one day of follow-up meetings in Antigonish and any further consultation determined necessary. The Chair of the IRP will present the draft policy and supplementary report to the university in June.

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