Just for Laughs drafts new anti-harassment policy in time for Wednesday's opening

As Montreal's Just for Laughs festival prepares to kick off Wednesday, the company has released a new anti-harassment policy for employees and addressed the sexual misconduct scandal that forced its founder to resign.

Boycotting comedian D.J. Mausner calls Gilbert Rozon's departure 'surface-level solution for systemic problem'

Gilbert Rozon, who has denied sexual misconduct allegations levelled against him, quit the festival he founded last October. (Radio-Canada)
As Montreal's Just for Laughs festival prepares to kick off Wednesday, the company has released a new anti-harassment policy for employees and addressed the sexual misconduct scandal that forced Gilbert Rozon to walk away from the festival he founded.

In a statement Monday, the newly restructured company said it supports "those who courageously came forward,'' declaring: "harassment of any type is unacceptable and has no place in our company, our industry or society as a whole.''

"We are committed to providing a safe and respectful workplace for all of our employees, artists, and business partners,'' said the statement.

Last fall, several women accused Rozon, who was a majority stakeholder, of sexual assault and harassment.

Rozon stepped down as president in October and sold his shares in the Just For Laughs company in response to the allegations, which he has denied. They have not been proven in court.

All employees must sign on

In March, the Montreal-based company was sold to an investor group led by Canadian-born comedian Howie Mandel. In June, chief operating officer Bruce Hills was appointed president.

The new policy, which took effect Monday, applies to all Just for Laughs employees. It's simpler and easier to understand than the previous policy, which was long and complicated, the company said.

It will include the formation of a new committee of four employees to handle harassment complaints. The committee will comprise three women who are in management positions and one man who is the director of human resources.

"What's important to note is that a complaint can be addressed to any member of the committee,'' Patricia Brissette, corporate secretary of Just for Laughs, said Monday in a phone interview.

"So basically it's (up) to the victim to choose the member of his or choice."

Committee members will receive training on how to handle an employee's claim early next week, she added.

Meanwhile, all employees at Just for Laughs must sign on to the new policy and will receive training on harassment prevention by the end of next week.

The company said it expected to issue a code of conduct for artists, suppliers and industry by end of day Monday. The festival runs through July 29.

Prize-winning comic boycotts festival

The policy comes after comedian D.J. Mausner recently revealed in a Vice article that she was boycotting this year's fest due to what she felt was a lack of action taken to address the scandal.

D.J. Mausner, a sexual assault survivor who identifies as queer, said she is boycotting the festival because she views founder Gilbert Rozon's departure as 'a surface-level solution for a systemic problem.' (Selena Phillips-Boyle)
In a subsequent interview with The Canadian Press, Mausner said she turned down a chance at a paid, taped performance at this year's festival — an opportunity she won last July in Just for Laugh's Homegrown Comics competition — after learning details of allegations against Rozon stemming back to the 1980s.

Mausner said she felt Just for Laughs played a role in enabling the alleged assaults by keeping Rozon on as head of the organization over the years. She also felt Rozon's departure from the organization was "a surface-level solution for a systemic problem.''

The comic was calling for the festival to enact a number of measures, some of which were addressed in Monday's policy and statement.

She also wanted to see efforts at the comedy festival "to value women, like addressing the disparity between female, non-binary-identifying performers to male performers.''

"They can begin to hire more women, non-binary people, more people of colour internally so they don't have these mistakes over and over again,'' said Mausner, who is a sexual assault survivor and identifies as queer.

Canadian comedian DeAnne Smith, who is performing at this year's fest, said she would also like to see more women and non-binary and trans acts booked at the festival.

But such changes take time, she added, noting she wouldn't participate in a boycott because she feels it's important to have diverse voices like hers on stage.

"I've always done comedy from an explicitly feminist kind of anti-oppressive point of view,'' said Smith said, who identifies as non-binary.

"It's important to take up space in the festival as a marginalized person.''