A Toronto bar owner has apologized — and says a staff member will be fired — following an online backlash over a bar sign that angered people who said it was joking about sexual assault.
Katii Capern was at Locals Only on Saturday evening when she and her friends saw the sign that read, "No means yes and yes means a***?"
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Capern said she asked a staff member what "a***" meant, and they said "anal."
"Once I realized the whole message, I felt sick to my stomach," she said. "Rape jokes are never OK, ever, but it's even more troubling to see in a bar because of the prevalence of date rape."
After trying and failing to get in contact with Locals Only the next day, Capern posted about the sign on social media.
More than 100 people responded to her posts with outrage, and several people wrote negative reviews on the King Street bar's Facebook and Yelp pages.
Owners 'shocked, disgusted'
On Sunday night, Locals Only issued a statement on social media that said a staff member had made the sign without management's knowledge.
Locals Only called the sign, "disgusting, derogatory, and insensitive towards a serious issue that we in no shape or form condone."
Co-owner Jonathan Condren said he and his partners were "saddened" to learn about the sign.
"We're all immensely upset, shocked, disgusted, appalled and truly apologetic, of course," he told CBC Toronto on the phone from Los Angeles. "There's no place for a sign like that to be anywhere."
Condren said he found out about the sign Sunday night, while on vacation in California. He and the other two owners had been out of town since Friday, he said.
Condren said the staff member responsible will be fired.
Condren said the bar will also reissue a staff training course on "what appropriate standards and policies are in the workplace."
"Most importantly, we extend our deepest apology to anyone who may have been affected or offended by this," Condren said in the statement on Locals Only's Facebook page.
"It is unfathomable and completely disheartening to think that we would ever have to be writing something like this, as we take extreme measures to ensure the safety of our patrons in our establishment at all times."
He also said that another staff member took the sign down on Saturday night.
Other signs in past
Capern, however, said she thinks this sign is part of a "clear pattern" at the bar.
On Facebook, people posted photos of past signs in Locals Only. One sign reads "Dry slump? Do the Trump." Another says "Snap chat me that p***y."
"Clearly their whole marketing is built on this, they've cultivated a culture with this kind of problematic messaging, with last night's being the most blatant," she said.
When questioned about the other signs, Condren said they've had some problems with certain staff members in the past. He said questionable signs were "immediately removed" once they were brought to management's attention.
"We try to make the place a fun environment for our staff to get involved and do things, and obviously, sometimes if they're unsupervised, these things happen and we immediately come in and rectify the situation," he said.
He added there have been previous situations where they have had to suspend or fire staff members because of similar problems.
The photo of Saturday's sign has also been widely shared among industry insiders.
Toronto bartender Ada De Sastris says he was livid when he saw the post and immediately launched into action, sharing it on the Food and Wine Industry Career Navigator Facebook page — which has a membership of nearly 20,000 — in an effort to raise awareness about the issue.
"It seemed the most effective way to make sure that there were immediate consequences for this would be to make sure the industry saw it," he said.
The Locals Only incident comes amid two recent high-profile incidents in Toronto that have sparked discussion about what steps bars should be taking to prevent sexual assault.
Earlier this year, sexual assault charges were laid against the owner and a manager at College Street Bar. Last fall, a post on La Carnita's social media that read, "What if Donald said, 'Grab her by the taco'..." prompted a firestorm.
De Sastris maintains that such incidents are exceptions rather than the rule, but he says he's encouraged by a culture of self-policing that seems to be growing in the industry. He also points to training programs, such as the Dandelion Project by the Sexual Assault Action Coalition, as promising signs.
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Ultimately though, De Sastris says there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy toward rape culture.
"Immediately, I thought of every woman I've ever known who's suffered from any form of sexual assault," he said about seeing the sign.
"If you've ever had to hold a woman who couldn't stop crying, no one would appreciate that as a sort of joke."