#MeToo movement prompts Edmonton businesses to strengthen response to sexual misconduct

The high profile #MeToo movement is prompting Edmonton businesses to scrutinize their practices.

'Companies do not want to be The Needle, they just don't'

Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

The high profile #MeToo movement is prompting Edmonton businesses to strengthen their sexual harassment policies and practices.

The #MeToo movement began in October and has since seen dozens of men and women sharing their stories about sexual misconduct by high-profile men in entertainment, media, business and sports.

Among those making changes in Edmonton are professionals, bars and clubs, and institutions.

Mary Jane James, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, said she's recently been contacted by a dozen or so companies aiming to tighten up their sexual harassment policies. They're also seeking advice on the proper handling of complaints.

"They don't want to be labelled as just another one of those companies or another one of those individuals who stood by and watched this happen and tried to sweep it under the rug," James said.

"Companies do not want to be The Needle, they just don't."

The Needle, a popular Edmonton music venue, shut down in November after sexual harassment allegations against one of the owners surfaced and gained traction online.

In an unrelated case in 2016, former Edmonton nightclub employee Matthew McKnight was charged with sexual assault following complaints to police by 17 women.

A pilot project launched by the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and the University of Alberta's Sexual Assault Centre specifically targets sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.

James said hundreds of bar managers and frontline workers have already taken part in the training that helps them safely intervene during an incident.
Executive director Mary Jane James said the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton has heard from a dozen companies wanting help to improve their sexual harassment policies.

The U of A is currently engaged in a process of creating sensitive and informed ways to respond to sexual violence on campus.

A stand-alone policy was crafted after a review of the university's responses to sexual assault released in 2016.

The committee is also engaging in work around the review's 46 recommendations around support, education, assessment and accountability.

"We need to establish accountability measures and programming … that can support individuals who have engaged in offending behaviour while still balancing that with really robust, trauma-informed dedicated services for survivors," said Samantha Pearson, director of the university's sexual assault centre.

"We recognize that if we actually want to prevent sexual violence into the future that we need to engage the populations that are making those choices and provide them with resources."