Sexual Violence Policy Review – Terms of Reference

Terms of Reference for 2024 Independent Review of StFX Sexual Violence Response Policy and Practices


In 2019, Watershed Legal Projects (then named Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response (CCLISAR)), was engaged by St Francis Xavier University (“StFX” or “the University”) to undertake an external and independent review of the StFX Sexual Violence Policy, and other related University policies, procedures and practices, to ensure that the University had effective and defensible practices and procedures that were responsive to those who report experiences of sexual harm; trauma-informed; and procedurally fair.

Watershed delivered a draft policy and report to StFX on June 30, 2019.

In December 2019, the Board of Governors of StFX approved a new Sexual Violence Response Policy (the “Policy”) for StFX based on the Watershed draft policy.  In 2019 and following, StFX continued to refine its procedures and practices for preventing and responding to sexual violence, including establishing the role of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Advocate.

The Sexual Violence Response Policy was updated again in August 2021 and is scheduled for mandatory review in June 2024.  Watershed has been engaged to assist StFX in this mandatory review in accordance with the mandate set out in the Terms of Reference below.

At the same time as the Sexual Violence Response Policy is being reviewed, StFX has also launched the Athletic Equity, Safety, and Well-being Project. This Project intersects with StFX’s efforts to prevent, address, and respond to issues of sexual violence on campus, including within athletics. Watershed’s Independent Review Panel (IRP) will include consultations with the Athletics Equity and Safety Advisory Committee (as well as others within athletics) as part of the Watershed Review.


StFX has engaged Watershed to conduct an external and independent review of the Sexual Violence Response Policy and practices under the Policy, as well as relevant intersecting university policies and practices, for the period 2020-2024.  The review will include consideration of the broader campus culture relative to sexualized violence, including but not limited to, power dynamics, attitudes towards consent, and the impact of social norms on reporting, particularly within the context of residence and athletics.

Watershed will produce a report for StFX. The report will summarize the review process, discuss what the Independent Review Panel heard and observed, and make recommendations, as applicable, for change.  The report will be made public. The contributions of any individual who participates in the review process will be anonymized.

Review Process

The review process will be undertaken in 4 stages.

Stage 1. The Independent Review Panel will conduct a document review of the University’s relevant policies and procedures, as well as any other documentation and materials provided by the University or requested by the IRP.  

Stage 1 will also include initial and preliminary meetings with StFX representatives, within the discretion of the IRP.

Stage 2. The IRP will conduct in-person consultations with relevant stakeholders over the course of two days, February 8 and 9th 2024 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.  The focus of these consultations will be on the operation of the University’s Sexual Violence Response Policy and any related policies.  The consultations will include meetings with individual members of the university community, as well as groups (e.g. departments, clubs, or other organizations) who express an interest in meeting with the IRP.  The University will manage the scheduling and coordination of the in-person consultation meetings.  The Chair of the Panel may also conduct additional consultations virtually or by phone as she deems appropriate.

The opportunity to participate in this consultation will be advertised by the University and meeting times will be made available to students, staff, and faculty who wish to participate. To request a meeting, please email Susan Grant at @email.

The university community will also be invited, during the months of January, February, and March 2024 to provide confidential written input to the IRP. The IRP will use a confidential Watershed email account (@email) external to StFX, for the purpose of receiving comments and information regarding the operation of the University’s Sexual Violence Response Policy and any policies with which it intersects, and those aspects of university culture that perpetuate a culture of sexualized violence.

Any comments, observations, or insights offered during these consultations or in writing will remain unattributed in Watershed’s report. The IRP’s notes, emails received through the IRP’s designated email account, and internal correspondence between members of the IRP will not be produced to the University or made public.

Stage 3. An Expert Advisory Group (“EAG”) meeting will be held, virtually, on May 1, 2024.  The meeting will be attended by external experts, the members of the IRP and representatives of StFX. A discussion document will be prepared by the IRP in March/April 2024 for the purposes of the EAG meeting and provided in advance of the meeting to all EAG participants.  The discussion document will summarize the key issues/observations from the consultations, as well as the IRP’s preliminary recommendations.

Stage 4. Following the EAG meeting, the IRP will prepare its final report.  The IRP and/or the Chair of the Panel may engage in follow-up consultations or meetings with members of the StFX community as appropriate/necessary.

The final report will be delivered to StFX by no later than June 30, 2024.

Composition of the Independent Review Panel

The Independent Review Panel will be comprised of three individuals external to the University.  The Chair of the IRP will be a practicing lawyer with expertise in gender-based harm and university-related complaints processes.  The second and third members of the IRP will include individuals with legal training and expertise in legal responses to sexualized violence.  At least one of these members will be a legal academic.  The other will be either an academic or practicing lawyer.

Composition of the Expert Advisory Group

The Expert Advisory Group will have up to ten members.  Members of this group will have relevant experience in university complaints processes and/or legal processes for responding to sexualized violence (e.g. adjudication or investigation) and/or expertise regarding issues of gender-based harm. Emphasis will be placed on persons with expertise in the areas of university athletics and/or residences.  The Chair of the IRP will also chair the EAG and the other two members of the IRP will be a part of the EAG.  Up to five members of the EAG will be selected by the University from among members of the University community (preferably a member of the University’s senior administration team who is familiar with StFX policies; a faculty member; and a student, including and/or as well as, representatives in the areas of athletics/residence).  Up to two further members of the group will be selected by the Research Director of Watershed.  Members selected by the Research Director of Watershed will be external to the University.

The EAG will provide advice to the IRP on the issues raised during the consultations and the IRP’s proposed solutions or recommendations, in response to the issues raised.

Timeline for the Review

January 2024

  • Finalize terms of reference/contract
  • Initiate review of documents provided by University.
  • Compile list of relevant stakeholders for consultations (in consultation with University)
  • Schedule in-person consultations (in collaboration with University)

February 2024 

  • Complete review of the University documents
  • Conduct In-person consultations held at StFX, February 8 and 9, 2024.

March/April 2024

  • Chair to conduct follow-up consultations/Interviews
  • Draft EAG Report

April 2024

  • Circulate EAG Report to Expert Advisory Group

May 2024

  • Hold Expert Advisory Group Workshop
  • Conduct any necessary follow-up meetings
  • Draft final report

June 30, 2024

  • Finalize and provide Final Report to the University