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OPINION: #MeToo P.E.I. moment

Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of Women’s Network P.E.I. suggests companies avail themselves of the services of gender experts to navigate the dynamics of workplace interactions in a post-#MeToo world.

(The Guardian/Mitch MacDonald)
Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of Women’s Network P.E.I. suggests companies avail themselves of the services of gender experts to navigate the dynamics of workplace interactions in a post-#MeToo world. (The Guardian/Mitch MacDonald) - SaltWire Network

We all have to do better on Prince Edward Island amid allegations against former music teacher

BY MARK CARR-ROLLITT

GUEST OPINION

The barrage of recent sexual assault allegations is horrifying. As a father, husband, musician and man, I have been struggling to find a response. The place to start is within our own homes and communities.

We now have our #MeToo moment. Much as is makes me uncomfortable to raise, I am speaking about the allegations brought against a former Colonel Gray music teacher.

It is hard to confront predators. They often operate in plain sight, taking advantage of those who have less power. They have spaces where they can close the door, intimidate, and abuse their power. We have to stand up and make it impossible for them to continue doing so.

My daughter was in the music program, so I start by pointing at myself. Many knew that the atmosphere in the music room was toxic, especially for female students. My daughter dropped out of music citing, in part, inappropriate jokes and comments. Nothing happened to my daughter…but I should have done more.

I spoke to several young women and men who came through the Colonel Gray music program. I learned that we sent our children, especially our young women, into a poisonous environment. Since this was common knowledge among students, it is hard to believe that other parents, teachers, administrators, and members of the music community did not know that something was wrong.

By choosing not to call this behaviour out, we created an unsafe environment for our kids. Some will point to the success of the music program. But at what price? We know from many examples that predators are careful when choosing who they will exploit.

I believe in the rule of law, and that everyone deserves their day in court. The court process is doing what it needs to do in this case. What I want to address here is the culture that was allowed to fester in the music rooms at Colonel Gray High School. This must change in all of our institutions. We need policy and practice that gives predators no room to operate — no closed-doors or after-hours meetings.

The bad news is that our institutions do not have policies in place — not the school board, not the provincial government, not the unions, not Holland College (please correct me if I have missed something).

The good news is I am not alone in thinking that something needs to be done. I am told that the legislative assembly, the school board, and the human rights commission are working on policies and directives to address this gap. UPEI has a Fair Treatment Policy that evolved from a sexual harassment policy written some 10 years ago.

The Provincial Sexual Abuse Protocol states that “school/program personnel can play an essential role in protecting children and provide for their safety and well-being.” What happens when this is not the case? There is no policy that applies to teachers up to Grade 12. Perhaps the UPEI Fair Treatment policy, which includes sexual harassment, is a model?

Here is a way forward:

1. We must truly encourage and fully support anyone who may have been the subject of inappropriate behaviour to come forward. Victims must have their say, and be given the opportunity to come to terms with their harmful experiences.

2. There needs to be a sexual harassment policy in place in all our institutions, but especially within the school system.

3. We need to understand that these situations are as much about power as they are about sex. Those in weaker power positions, whether through gender, age, economic circumstance, confidence, physicality, etc., are most likely to be targeted.

4. We all need to protect each other. This is not a call to become vigilantes, or to abandon our laws. It is a call for us to be courageous and to not allow inappropriate behaviour to become normalized. Far too often these behaviours are not confronted, or are minimized.

5. We must call inappropriate behaviours when we see them and have administrators and others in authority take them seriously, and we have to risk that some may not like it.

- Mark Carr-Rollitt of Charlottetown is an event planner; and Master of Island Studies candidate, UPEI

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