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Quebec education ombudsman surprised by number of sexual-related complaints

Quebec’s national education ombudsman has released some statistics relating to the nature of the complaints he has received since his office opened to the public last August, and he says he’s surprised how many are of a sexual nature.

He is responsible for 1.3 million elementary, high school and adult education students from across Quebec.

Jean-Francois Bernier was appointed to his role in August 2022. His office started accepting complaints from students in August 2023. He says since then, he has received 360 complaints. Of those, 60, or 14 per cent, are of a sexual nature.

“In my my mind it’s high, and I presume it’s not all the cases that are sent to us so maybe its more than that,” Bernier said.

“The other conclusion I made after five months of action is that our presence now is well founded.”

Bernier’s position was created after a series of high-profile sexual assault cases at Quebec schools, notably one involving the arrest of three basketball coaching staff at a St. Laurent high school in 2022.

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He says the type of complaints he has seen have varied.

“It can be inappropriate behaviour from another student,  from a teacher, from another member of staff at the school,” he said. “It can be a real sexual assault or it could be inappropriate behaviour like sending sex pictures, showing part of his body in the toilet, something like that.”

Bernier says his job is to offer recommendations to schools to deal with the complaints, and to help prevent them from happening.

“I often say that our ultimate goal is to close our office because everything is going well. So the main goal is to prevent,” he said. “If we can make recommendations to solve a problem for a lot of students, then our job is done.

He said he does not take the role of a police officer, and any complaint with a criminal nature would be addressed to the police or the department of youth protection. He says ultimately he would like to see a big drop in the number of complaints he’s seeing.

“Every case concerns me. Every case is important. It tells me that we must act clearly and that everyone must be aware to prevent those situation on a daily basis in all the schools in Quebec.”

Darren Becker of the Lester B. Pearson School Board says his board works alongside the ombudsman to handle any complaints it receives.

In a statement, he said, “The PBSP has its own internal controls whenever we receive any complaints of this nature, and will always offer our full collaboration to the Ombudsman  while ensuring that follow-ups are carried out as rapidly as possible.

“Our top priority is always ensuring the safety of our students and staff. “

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