Bob Baker, the former longtime artistic director of The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton who also directed at theatres across the country, has been expelled from the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.
“Acting on the findings of a Disciplinary Committee relating to a safe and respectful workplace complaint, Equity’s national Council ratified the recommendation of the Committee and expelled Bob Baker from Equity membership on June 23, 2019,” a notice on Equity’s website reads. “A possible appeal period has now closed.”
The expulsion followed “a proper investigation and hearing,” according to the notice. It said that the Disciplinary Committee investigation and report would remain confidential.
“Equity is firm in its resolve to ensure the safety of its members in the workplace. There is no place for toxic workplaces, bullying, personal or sexual harassment in Equity workspaces,” the announcement says.
Equity’s National Council President, Scott Bellis, issued a statement on behalf of the Council.
“Expelling a member from our Association is serious action not lightly undertaken by the national Council. On behalf of Council I would like those who have concerns about this decision to understand the following: since the launch of Equity’s Not in OUR Space! campaign, Council has worked diligently to ensure that our members have the protections in place that are necessary for their safety, their dignity, and their creativity. We aim to maintain respect as a cornerstone of our community and our art form.”
Equity said it would not comment further.
“It’s about time,” responded former actor Beth Kaplan, who acted in a Baker-directed production of The Owl and The Pussycat in Vancouver in 1980. “I’m not a vindictive person but I’m happy to hear that there’s at last some accountability for this man.”
Leaders and the board of the Citadel Theatre were made aware of the investigation and decision on Friday. Baker did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
“I’m assuming there was a complaint and that it was investigated and that this was the determination they came to,” says the Citadel’s board president Wendy Dupree. “I think it’s good that arts organizations have those mechanisms.”
Baker stepped down from the Citadel in 2016 after 17 “stunning” years, the theatre company’s announcement said at the time.
“We have been incredibly fortunate to enjoy Bob’s artistic vision, leadership and extraordinary direction over these years,” said then board president Sheila Witwicky in a statement. “He’s brought his creative force and business acumen to the demands of leading a large arts venue, theatre company and training academy. We couldn’t have asked for a better leader.”
But in March 2018, a few months into the #MeToo era, the Citadel issued a public apology for “any harassment that has been a part of the Citadel’s past.” Nobody, including Baker, was specifically named. Baker’s successor, Daryl Cloran, has referred to a toxic workplace.
“It wasn’t just one person. It was a history of behaviour at the Citadel that we learned about over a long period of time,” Cloran told The Globe on Saturday.
“I retired as AD in 2016 and, having fulfilled my transition responsibilities and contractual obligations as AD Emeritus, I have now been in full retirement for four months,” Baker wrote in an email to The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Nestruck at the time.
The Citadel says it has undertaken a process to ensure a safe work environment. It has held community meetings and has implemented some changes. For instance, at the beginning of every new production, the cast comes together for a reading of the company’s safe workplace policy.
Cloran says one of the issues that has been raised by the community is a desire to see a response about such behaviour from their association.
“I’m an Equity member so I’m encouraged," Cloran said in an interview. "Clearly somebody spoke to Equity about concerns and Equity has a process to address that kind of thing, which is great.”
He made it clear that the Citadel’s process was separate from Equity’s determination.
"We are proud of what we’ve done, and will continue to do, hand in hand with our community, to maintain that environment. Disrespectful behaviour such as bullying or harassment is not tolerated.”
The Citadel’s initial report released early this year included a number of anonymous comments that were representative of what the company heard.
“My experience at the Citadel was characterized by fear, intimidation and isolation,” read one comment cited in the report. Another said: “There was nobody to talk to, or when you spoke up, no one listened or you were punished.”
Baker, whose photo remains up on the City of Edmonton’s Arts and Culture Hall of Fame in the Citadel building, was artistic director at Canadian Stage in Toronto before joining the Citadel in 1999.
He has also directed at the Shaw Festival, Alberta Theatre Projects, the National Arts Centre and the Vancouver Playhouse.
Chris Tyrell Loranger, a Vancouver artist who previously worked with Baker on a show for Presentation House Theatre that spurred interest from the Playhouse (and led to a legal dispute), says there is no excuse for inaction from companies and their boards when it comes to a bad work environment.
“The building blocks of a company of actors are trust, responsibility, authenticity and respect. We become family for six-to-eight weeks, so when a bad apple comes along it is shattering when that person is in a power position,” Loranger told The Globe.
“I’m proud of Equity taking action against Bob Baker. None of his employers did.”