Canada's Actors Union Hires Lawyer to Review Sexual Harassment Policies

Courtesy ACTRA
ACTRA Toronto president Theresa Tova

"I will accept that we need to do more," said ACTRA Toronto head Theresa Tova.

Spurred by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, ACTRA Toronto, the Canadian actors union's biggest branch, has hired a veteran labor lawyer to conduct a review of its internal sexual harassment policies.

The Directors Guild of Canada has also agreed to an independent audit of its own internal policies around sexual harassment. The moves follow accusations that Canadian performers allegedly experiencing workplace harassment have not felt adequately protected by Canadian unions and guilds.

"The industry collectively has not done enough. Have we done enough? Absolutely not," Theresa Tova, president of ACTRA Toronto, told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday. Her union, now facing a flood of workplace complaints by Canadian performers, has tapped Victoria Shen as a special adviser to look internally at policies and practices around sexual harassment allegation and resolution processes.

But Tova claims the Canadian film and TV industry as a whole has to grapple with systemic sexual harassment and bullying of young performers that mostly takes place away from film and TV sets and often in casting sessions. "I know there's things we can do now, like we [the industry] agreeing that we're not going to enable it, agreeing that you don't set up casting sessions in hotel rooms — simple things that protect 18- and 19-year-olds from abuse," she said.

Shen, a veteran human rights and labor lawyer, most recently served as director of national industrial relations and counsel at the Canadian Media Producers Association, representing indie film and TV producers, including in labor disputes. Her hire follows industry calls for ACTRA to introduce measures against sexual misconduct like a database to monitor how many performers are denied work because they filed sexual harassment complaints against offending producers and directors.

Tova conceded ACTRA in the past did not keep a database of alleged offenders and is discussing via industry-wide talks how such a reporting system may be introduced and shared. Canadian actress Mia Kirshner in a recent Globe and Mail column called for such an industry monitoring system to be put in place.

"Any effort to blacklist an actor who refuses sexual advances (by a producer, director, etc.) should trigger real consequences against the offender. But again, how can the unions produce evidence of blacklisting if no monitoring is in place?" Kirshner wrote. Her call to action included alluding to "an ordeal in a hotel room" with Weinstein where "he attempted to treat me like chattel that could be purchased with the promise of work in exchange for being his disposable orifice."

Tova, who admitted she has experienced sexual harassment on four occasions during her own career in an impassioned Oct. 27 YouTube video, said an "alarming number" of unionized performers have spoken up with their own sexual harassment allegations. "The stories I'm hearing are horrific," she said.

ACTRA has enlisted other Canadian industry players like the CMPA and the DGC to bolster efforts to curb sexual harassment and bullying. Top Canadian directors aligned with the DGC met in Toronto over the weekend and approved a motion for a "wide-ranging" independent audit of their own policies on sexual harassment and a second motion urging "stronger measures" following cross-industry talks to end harassment.

"It's clear there's powerful momentum right now for stronger action to end these abuses and the Directors Guild intends to seize the opportunity for change created by the brave women and men who've come forward," Brian Burke, DGC national executive director, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

CMPA president and CEO Reynolds Mastin, representing indie producers, said in his own statement that his association is working with ACTRA and others to create a safer workplace for industry talent. "As leaders in the industry, we owe it to all we employ to address this problem, to encourage reporting and an open dialogue, to support victims and to take action to prevent these behaviors in the future," he said.

The UBCP, the actors union in British Columbia, will hold a town hall meeting in Vancouver on Monday to allow female performers to share stories of sexual harassment. "We know that our brothers are not exempt from this abuse of power, but this town hall is offered to women members (and those who identify as female) who want a safe place to express their fear, anger and sorrow," Christine Willes, chair of the UBCP/ACTRA women’s committee, said in a statement.