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Sexual violence

After a wave of disturbing allegations turned not just the entertainment industry but society at large on its head, Canada's Justice Minister and actor Mia Kirshner attend a Globe-sponsored town hall to ask the question on many minds: What now?

Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould delivers the keynote speech at the #AfterMeToo town hall held at The Globe and Mail’s Toronto office on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Telling survivors of sexual violence, "I hear you; we hear you," federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould opened a public forum devoted to ending sexual harassment in the entertainment industries Wednesday.

"I have seen this violence in every corner of every space I have occupied but I have also seen leadership," Wilson-Raybould said, speaking of her own career as a lawyer and Indigenous activist. She encouraged the audience at the #AfterMeToo town hall sponsored by The Globe and Mail to believe that change was coming for victims of harassment and assault. She pointed not only to social dialogue on the workplace harassment issue but also to a federal bill to amend the Criminal Code that will ensure victims of sexual violence are treated more compassionately in courtrooms, and to improvements in gathering and reporting assault statistics at Statistics Canada.

The town hall was organized in response to a social-media campaign of women sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in the United States. It also heard from a group of entertainment-industry leaders, legal professionals and psychologists about the recommendations that the #AfterMeToo symposium had hashed out during sessions with expert panels on Tuesday.

The recommendations include:

  • Establishing an independent industry body that could both investigate harassment complaints and penalize perpetrators by such means as ejecting them from industry associations;
  • Establishing a fund, to be paid into by industry members in the manner of a benefit or pension fund, that would pay for mental-health support for victims of harassment;
  • Harmonizing policies and reporting mechanisms of existing entertainment-industry unions;
  • Providing mandatory training for all members of the industry;
  • Expanding the definition of the workplace to include social events and any situation where there is a business relationship;
  • Developing online reporting systems so complainants can report and repeat perpetrators can be tracked;
  • Calling on governments to provide better access to mental-health supports.

Organizers said they hoped such recommendations would spread outside the entertainment industries that have initiated this discussion.

Actor Mia Kirshner, co-founder of the #AfterMeToo symposium, closes the town hall.

"This is happening everywhere, on assembly lines, in restaurants," Mia Kirshner, the actor who launched the #AfterMeToo symposium, said in an interview. "I want to make it very clear, when we say #AfterMeToo is just about the entertainment industry, that's not what I thought."

Within the industry, some observers cautioned that rather than establishing new bodies, it might be easier to ask existing unions to better co-ordinate their efforts.

"Having a third-party independent body is a lofty ideal," said Martin Katz, president of the Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television. "I think it's a big ask, but some level of co-operation [between unions] might be achievable."

Katz pointed out that since the entertainment unions represent members in specific professions such as actors or technicians, they have had little ability to sanction behaviour outside their own membership.

(Industry associations and unions, led by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, met last month to discuss co-ordination and agreed to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.)

Katz also added his voice to the chorus saying the tide had turned in the entertainment industry.

"The real reason for optimism is not just because we are getting together to talk about it, but also because there are now real economic consequences," he said. "It used to be the case if you reported sexual harassment, you needed to fear you could lose your job or your career; now, it appears if you brush off complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace, you could lose your company or your career. It's turned on its head."