Arts agencies without 'best practices' to address harassment could risk federal funding, minister says

Arts organizations that don’t have “best practices” in place to deal with harassment and bullying may be blocked from federal funding, the heritage minister said following a meeting with entertainment industry stakeholders amid the ongoing scandals at Soulpepper Theatre Company and other sectors of the cultural community.

Melanie Joly says Heritage Department staff will make recommendations on changes to arts funding model

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly speaks to the media after a meeting with entertainment industry stakeholders on Wednesday. (Mary Margaret Webster/CBC)

Arts organizations that don't have "best practices" in place to deal with harassment and bullying may be blocked from federal funding, the heritage minister said following a meeting with entertainment industry stakeholders amid the ongoing scandals at Soulpepper Theatre Company and other sectors of the cultural community.

Melanie Joly made the comments following Wednesday's meeting, and discussed the issue again Thursday during an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. On Wednesday, she noted that because many segments of the arts community fall under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government — as a major funder of the arts — can have its most significant impact on change by reining in the purse strings.

Asked Thursday whether an organization dealing with allegations of harassment would be ineligible for federal funding, Joly did not say yes or no.

Rather, she replied: "In general I'm very proud of the cultural sector, because harassment has been happening in every single part of our society and again, the cultural sector is at the forefront of social change because they decided to tackle this issue and speak up.

"And now we are looking at how we can help to change the culture in the sector."

Asked specifically if Soulpepper, which has received nearly $3 million in funding from the federal government since it opened in 1999, would continue to receive grants, Joly promised more specific details after Department of Canadian Heritage staffers report back with recommendations for changes to funding policies. These changes would ensure there is "zero tolerance" for harassment in organizations receiving federal grants, she said.

But, she said, the federal government has to decide how it can help address harassment in the arts sector without hurting the industry.

"This is an overall issue in the sector, and organizations are different from their directors," Joly said. "And we need to support the great work that is being done and we need to support the workers that are evolving in these workplaces."

'Difficult couple of months'

Allegations from dozens of women have rocked the worldwide entertainment industry, with actresses and others telling their stories of assault, harassment and bullying. The issue has come to a head in Canada in recent weeks with four actresses filing a civil suit against former Soulpepper artistic director Albert Schultz accusing him of sexual misconduct and harassment of a sexual nature.

None of the allegations in the lawsuits has been proven in court and Schultz has said in a statement that he will "vehemently defend" himself against the allegations. Schultz stepped down from the company, which also cancelled Amadeus, one of its marquee winter productions.

After Wednesday's meeting, Joly and representatives from ACTRA and Actors' Equity Association said industry members are working on initiatives to make "safer workspaces" for arts workers. Those include a code of conduct, as well as education tools and measures for safer reporting of problems, David Sparrow, president of ACTRA, told reporters on Wednesday.

The union is working with all levels of government and other industry unions and organizations "to ensure we have safer workspaces where people can confidently go to work and go home feeling that they've been respected and that they can build exciting careers in this industry."

ACTRA president David Sparrow says a code of conduct for arts organizations is in the works and could be ready by mid-February. (Mary Margaret Webster/CBC)

Sedina Fiati, a vice president at the Canadian Actors Equity Association, said Wednesday her organization, along with the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, "are committed to taking a leadership role in eliminating sexual harassment and bullying in professional Canadian theatre."

A code of conduct that organizations could sign on to could be ready by mid-February, according to Sparrow.

"People are making a decision then to say, 'This is how our business will operate. This is how we will co-operate with the other signatories to this code, and how we will investigate and move forward supporting victims or survivors of harassing behaviour, and how we will help to re-educate people who have perpetrated these inappropriate behaviours,'" Sparrow said in characterizing the code.

Joly noted that it is workers within the sector who are affecting change, as opposed to having directives come down to them from government. They recognized "an issue" that needed addressing and are committed to making lasting change, she said. But it will take time, she added.

"It's been a difficult couple of months for the entire sector," Joly told Metro Morning.

"But I'm a proud feminist and I'm very happy that this is finally coming up. And there's no going back. People, and women in particular, won't accept any form of harassment that may have been accepted in the past."