It is important to recognize the ways in which the two options for recourse for sexual violence – the criminal justice system and the University policy framework – differ. The criminal justice system is set out under the Canadian Criminal Code, with provisions relating to sexual assault covered in sections 265 through 276. These provisions cover the legal definition of sexual assault, sexual harassment, consent, and protections for survivors, such as the “rape shield” law. The “rape shield” law, codified in Section 276 of the Code, consists of limitations on a defendant’s ability to introduce evidence or cross-examine rape complainants about their past sexual behavior.
If an individual chooses to pursue a complaint through the criminal justice system, upon experiencing an act of sexual violence, survivors will first file a complaint with their local law enforcement agency.
To file a complaint of sexual violence with the Montreal Police Services, please call:
The Special Hotline for Sexual Violence: 514-280-2079.
Hours: 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., Monday to Friday.
The circumstances for this initial complaint may vary: it could be taken at the scene of the crime, at the hospital, or directly in the police station at a later date. Additionally, at McGill, criminal justice complaints may be made with the McGill O-SVRSE Office who have a relationship with the SVPM (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal) and can accompany survivors to any subsequent meetings with law enforcement officials. At the first stage, the police officer will document brief details to make an initial report. The initial report will then lead to an investigation being conducted by an officer trained in the area of sexual assault. The Officer in Charge will lead the investigation into the complaint in order to decide whether or not to press sexual assault charges. If the officer decides not to press charges because they deem that there is not enough evidence, the case will be labelled “unfounded”. If the officer decides to lay charges, that person becomes the “accused” and the survivor becomes the respondent. If the charges lead to a trial, the trial process and timeline can vary from a few months to a few years. A survivor may be required to testify and be cross-examined by the defense lawyer. At the end of the trial a judge or jury will make a decision of guilt; if the accused is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt the judge will render a sentence. More information on the process of reporting sexual violence to the criminal justice system can be found through this link.
For those studying at a university or college in Quebec, they now have the ability to seek redress from their school’s stand-alone sexual violence policy, mandated by the recently passed Bill 151: An Act to Prevent and Fight Sexual Violence in Higher Education Institutions. University sexual violence policies are created to provide a different form of redress for survivors of sexual violence. They are also designed, in theory, to be less onerous on the survivor by adopting a less adversarial process.
At McGill, the Policy Against Sexual Violence seeks to be less adversarial and onerous on survivors by creating a reporting process that is led by a third-party Special Investigator. The Policy Against Sexual Violence is an encompassing document that works in conjunction with other existing McGill policies to create redress mechanisms for sexual violence on and off campus perpetrated by members of the McGill community. Formal complaints against students will go through the McGill Student Code and Disciplinary Procedures. For formal complaints against employees/faculty and staff the process will go through the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Academic Staff, McGill’s Human Resources department, and the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law.
For more information on the complaint process for the McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence please visit the O-SVRSE site.
If you are unsure of what next steps you would like to take, or require further clarification on your options, the on-campus organizations SACOMSS Advocacy-Branch and O-SVRSE can provide more information.
Please note that the SSMU acknowledges and seeks to ensure that survivors are aware of the potential for re-traumatization when seeking to file a formal complaint with the police and McGill. This potential for re-traumatization is often exacerbated for individuals living with marginalized identities who have experienced, and continue to experience, systemic discrimination in their everyday life. The SSMU is actively advocating for the continued development of the McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence to ensure that it meaningfully adopts a survivor-centric approach through its processes. We recognize this is a conversation that is currently occuring as McGill reviews their sexual violence policy. For more information on this advocacy, please refer to the SSMU Initiatives section.
You have the right to bring a support person to any and all meetings with the police and/or McGill. If you would like a support person or accompaniment to either of these meetings, you can bring in any individual (including your friend and/or family member) or you can contact:
If you feel as though the Montreal Police Services or McGill have failed to meet your needs or respect your rights, specifically to a safe campus and a sensitive and prompt process and accommodations, contact the SSMU VP University Affairs at email@example.com who will connect you with further options, including the Bill 151 complaint process being developed by the Quebec Government and the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse.
For additional reference, students can consult the SSMU Survivor Bill of Rights – a document created during the development of the SSMU Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy.