Once Upon A Time actor speaks publicly, denies 10-year-old sexual harassment allegations
Michael Coleman says allegations are 'unfounded' and claims he's done nothing wrong
A Vancouver-based actor, filmmaker and director who stepped down last month from the arts school he co-founded, amid allegations of sexual harassment that he says are 10 years old, is denying any wrongdoing and said he's consulting with a defamation lawyer.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the allegations surfaced, Michael Coleman told reporters he has never had inappropriate relations with students or fellow staff members and called the allegations against him defamatory.
"All the allegations are from 10 years ago and this is the next thing to an anonymous attack on my reputation, with no one stepping forward to say publicly that I did anything wrong," said Coleman.
"I am saying publicly that I have done nothing wrong."
A CBC News investigation found 14 instructors at School Creative: Institute of the Arts stepped down in response to the allegations, saying they would only return if Coleman resigned.
The CBC has not independently verified any of the allegations against Coleman.
Coleman — who was once the school's artistic director — says he is in the middle of selling his shares and is no longer involved with the school.
He is well known for his role as Happy in the hit TV series Once Upon A time and has a lengthy career in acting, including roles in series such as Supernatural, Smallville and Stargate SG-1, in addition to his work as an acting coach.
Standing next to his wife Michelle, Coleman detailed allegations from four women.
The first, he said, was later retracted and didn't offer details.
Another allegation, he said, is from a student who alleges Coleman asked her to rehearse her audition in her bikini. He said, he "did no such thing" and told reporters they had a discussion over whether there was a requirement for her to wear a bikini during the audition.
Coleman said the same woman alleges he forced her to be naked during the filming of a skinny-dipping scene for a movie he was directing. He also denied that allegation.
Another allegation, Coleman said, is from a student who claims he tried to kiss her during a private coaching session. She also claims he placed her hand on his groin during a breakfast.
"What had actually happened that morning was I had said something funny, the young woman in question reached over to slap my thigh and hit me in the groin," said Coleman
Coleman said another accusation stems from a fan of the show Once Upon a Time who claims he sent her an inappropriate twitter message.
"None of these complaints have resulted in any formal claims. There are no formal investigations. There is nothing civil, criminal, nothing through my union," said Coleman.
Three women spoke at the news conference expressing their support for Coleman: a former student, a parent and a former colleague.
Opponents crash news conference
Before the news conference began, approximately a dozen protesters gathered outside the building holding signs that read, "we believe the women."
"I stand by them [the instructors who stepped down]. They have integrity, intelligence. They would not have risked their jobs, their livelihood if they didn't believe without question that it was fact," said Lisa Ovies, a former business associate of Michael Coleman, who was part of the group of protesters.
"Regardless, if a woman stands up or a man stands up and says they have been violated, our job is to listen, to stop and listen."
The group came into Friday's news conference and held up their signs as Coleman spoke to reporters, some becoming emotional, as Coleman detailed the allegations.
"If you get a good number of women coming forward, especially in this industry, there has to be a reason for it," said Joyce Robbins, a Vancouver actress who came to the event to protest with her twin sister Jacqueline.
Audition at 'adult nightclub'
Coleman was asked Friday whether he invited some of his students to audition for a promotional video at a local adult nightclub.
"There was a nightclub that students did get an opportunity to participate in. There was a nightclub that friends of mine were opening and they were creating an orientation video for the nightclub and some of them received paid work in the promotional work for that nightclub," said Coleman.
The club in question is Club Eden. On its website, the club invites patrons to "surrender to temptation at the naughtiest new club for couples and single ladies" and to "bring your innermost fantasies to life.'
Coleman denied he knew it was a sexually oriented adult club.
"My understanding of Club Eden is that it's a nightclub," said Coleman.
Jordana Largy said she received an email from Coleman, when she was 20 years old and beginning her career in acting, asking if she would audition for the club.
"I just think it's highly inappropriate. A 20-year-old just starting out, here's a first audition — a great opportunity to audition as a spokesperson for a swingers club," said Largy.
"Coming from a coach, it was highly, highly inappropriate,"
CBC News has not independently confirmed whether the nature of the club has changed since its opening.