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Program to combat sexual harassment in music venues sees little pickup ahead of Junos

General manager Heath Parsons, left, works at the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver on March 22, 2018. The venue participated in Good Night Out's training session.

Rafal Gerszak

After the 2017 Juno Awards, at which the ceremony’s host, comedian Russell Peters, joked that young women in the audience were “a felony waiting to happen,” Vancouver-based nurse Stacey Forrester e-mailed every contact she could find on the website of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS).

Ms. Forrester felt that CARAS, the organization behind the Juno Awards, could benefit from the help of Good Night Out Vancouver, the local branch of a global initiative that seeks “to end sexual harassment and assault in venues, bars, clubs, pubs and festivals across the world,” according to its website. Ms. Forrester co-founded Good Night Out Vancouver with Ashtyn Bevan.

She did not receive a response. A few months later, she wrote CARAS again, and then again. Six months later, in the fall of 2017, a representative from the academy contacted her to say they were interested in having Good Night Out conduct safe-space training with its officially sanctioned Juno Fest venues before this weekend’s festivities.

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The partnership was arranged in co-operation with the Tegan and Sara Foundation, the Vancouver Juno Host City Committee and WorkSafeBC. CARAS offered to pay the per-venue fee of $200 to $500 for Good Night Out’s training.

Despite that offer, few have signed up.

“Venue owners think it’s going to infringe on the things they rely upon to make money,” Ms. Forrester said. “…There’s a misconception that ‘safer space’ means being a prude, and being sober, and not having fun.”

The Biltmore Cabaret and the Rickshaw Theatre participated, as did a representative of MRG Group, which owns the Biltmore, as well as Juno Fest venues the Vogue Theatre and the Yale Saloon, last October. After Ms. Forrester sent a follow-up e-mail expressing disappointment over low enrollment, The Imperial, too, agreed to sign up.

Good Night Out’s two-hour training sessions cover subjects such as bystander intervention, de-escalation techniques, how to mitigate safety risks and how to handle disclosures of harassment or assault. The organization has also developed an e-mail-based reporting tool for this weekend, hoping that anyone who witnesses misconduct will share what they see with the organization.

Since October — and the resurgence of the #MeToo movement — there’s been “a huge shift in terms of venues being open to this conversation,” Ms. Forrester said. This boost in consciousness notwithstanding, “selling the idea of prioritizing women’s safety to [music] venues is still where the bottleneck is. ... It requires a whole paradigm shift that the industry is only just starting to wake up to.”

An e-mail sent to The Globe and Mail on behalf of CARAS president and CEO Allan Reid said: “We are pleased to partner with Good Night Out and we support the important work they do to promote a safer environment for women during our week of celebrations.”

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Mr. Reid was not able to answer questions regarding the initial delay in CARAS’ interest, whether the organization will continue to work with local organizations for future Juno Fests in other cities, or whether it might consider making the training mandatory.

Ms. Forrester said CARAS should be commended for deciding to work with Good Night Out, and noted that Mr. Reid, whom she calls an “ally,” met with her to discuss the low involvement level of Juno Fest venues. Last year, Mr. Reid issued a statement denouncing Mr. Peters’ comments on the 2017 Junos broadcast, as did Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly.

Darlene Rigo, manager of Vancouver’s Fox Cabaret, which did not participate in Good Night Out training, said the venue already has a protocol.

“We have a no tolerance policy to harassment of any kind, with a sign posted at the box office that makes it clear to anyone entering the club,” she said in an e-mail.

“As a former rape counsellor and anti-violence worker, I’m proactive about preventing [sexual misconduct] under my purview, and everyone employed at the Fox knows this. … I think that the folks with Good Night Out Vancouver are doing great work and I see our efforts as aligned with theirs.”

Good Night Out will put posters in every Juno Fest venue.

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Viktoria Belle, founder of Toronto’s similarly focused Dandelion Initiative, echoes the challenges of Good Night Out Vancouver. Out of the 30 bars that signed up for anti-sexual-assault training in Toronto, Ms. Belle said, only three have completed it. Just one of those has done the requisite follow-up component.

“Everyone can agree that sexual assault shouldn’t happen,” Ms. Belle said. “But we are having challenges getting people on board to create the accountability we need to move forward.”

Ms. Forrester believes safe-space training should not be optional.

“You have to take WHMIS [hazardous materials] training to learn why toilet cleaner shouldn’t go in your eyes. You should also have to take sexual-misconduct training,” she said.

“My vision for this is that somewhere along the line, either provincially or at a municipal-level, someone will step up to make this training mandatory.”

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