Canada producers seek restraining order


TORONTO -- Canada's producers association Tuesday asked an Ontario judge to prevent striking Canadian actors from working on film and TV sets under ACTRA-approved continuation letters.

The Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. asked the Ontario Superior Court for a restraining order against the use of "unlawful" continuation letters that spare producer signatories picketing or other on-set disruption in return for a 7% wage increase on struck film and TV sets. The letters have essentially produced a strike without work stoppages.

John Rook, a lawyer with Bennett Jones acting on behalf of the CFTPA, faced an uphill struggle Thursday in persuading Justice Sarah Pepall that injunctive relief was required from a business-as-usual strike.

"We acknowledge there is no strike at all, because ACTRA has secured the upper hand by declaring a strike, but by virtue of the continuation letters, everyone continues to work," he argued.

But Rook said the court should order an end to the use of continuation letters because ACTRA, which represents 21,000 striking actors, was not following agreed negotiating and dispute resolution protocols outlined in the Independent Production Agreement, the actors' collective agreement.

He argued that continuation letters represent "an economic weapon" designed to extract concessions from North American producers even as they bargain for a new IPA agreement.

Rook also urged Justice Pepall to appoint an arbitrator to help work out a new labor deal between North American producers and domestic performers.

But judging from the questioning from the bench during the oral arguments, Justice Pepall appears reluctant to consider granting injunctive relief to the CFTPA if its member producers were not financially disadvantaged by the current strike.

Rook accepted that the "irreparable harm" the producers faced from the strike has more to do with ACTRA sidestepping the IPA dispute resolution process to gain an advantage over the CFTPA, and that monetary damage was a secondary issue.

The CFTPA's lawsuit against ACTRA will continue Wednesday. At that time, James Cavalluzo, a Toronto-based lawyer with Cavalluzo Hayes Shilton, will argue that provincial labor boards have jurisdiction over ACTRA's legal strike and that the producers have no valid complaint to bring before Justice Pepall.

About a dozen Canadian actors, including Wendy Crewson ("24") and Maury Chaikin ("A Nero Wolfe Mystery"), sat in the gallery at the Ontario Superior Court to lend support to ACTRA.

The actors union has thus far struck without disruption in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Saskatchewan, and intends to extend its labor action to the rest of the country once it receives permission from separate provincial labor boards.

British Columbia is exempted from the strike, as actors there operate under a separate agreement.

Once the oral arguments wrap Wednesday, Justice Pepall is expected to rule on the CFTPA legal action within seven days.

This week's courtroom showdown follows representatives for ACTRA and the CFTPA bargaining without success Monday despite the help of a neutral facilitator.

Both sides in the dispute remain deadlocked over how actors should be paid when product containing their performances is converted to digital media.