Nova Scotia

Alleged harassment at French film festival leads to Halifax workshop for women

An uncomfortable situation at a party at the Cannes Film Festival is the catalyst for a Halifax workplace harassment workshop being hosted by a group representing Atlantic Canadian women in the screen industry.

Atlantic Canadian women in the screen industry will learn to address sexual harassment at upcoming session

Joan Helson, owner and chief instructor at Sisu Women's Self Defence, is one of the workshop facilitators. (Joan Helson)

An uncomfortable situation at a party at the Cannes Film Festival is the catalyst for a Halifax workplace harassment workshop being hosted by a group representing Atlantic Canadian women in the screen industry, an organizer says.

The daylong event, titled Finding Your Voice in the Workplace; How to Recognize and Respond to Harassment, is being held on the NSCAD University campus on Jan. 27. The event is free, although participants have to register. It's part of a series planned by a non-profit called Women in Film and Television Atlantic (WIFT-AT).

Jan Miller, the group's founding chair, said the inspiration behind the workshop is a female Atlantic Canadian filmmaker who had two "incredibly uncomfortable" encounters with men in positions of power at a party at Cannes. 

Miller told CBC's Information Morning the men used "uncomfortable sexual innuendo" toward the woman in two separate incidents, adding one of the men even followed up with a late-night phone call.

She said they made things very awkward for the young filmmaker and she didn't know what to do.

"I was so struck by that," said Miller. "It was so real and present."

To address the problem head-on, Miller and her colleagues decided to put on a series of workshops. She said this is important "so that not just the victims, but those who can influence change are participating in the conversation."

Workshop goals

Miller said members of the industry at large held a meeting Friday on how to handle harassment in the workplace.

The goal of the first workshop is to teach women how to identify sexual harassment, how to understand the psychology behind it and how to respond to it, including physical self-defence strategies.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Dayna Lee-Baggley and self-defence instructor Joan Helson will facilitate the session.

'Don't touch my hair'

"When you're three years old and someone messes with your hair, you're perfectly happy to say, 'Don't touch my hair,'" said Helson.

However, over the years, many women lose their willingness to speak up, she said.

Jan Miller said members of the screen industry held a meeting on Friday on how to handle harassment in the workplace. (Michelle Doucet Photography)

Helson said she wants women to ask themselves: "What would I say if I didn't care what anybody else was thinking?"

She said the workshop is about reminding women to use their voices and showing them how to do that, as well as providing them with self-defence skills they may need to get out of some situations.

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from the CBC's Information Morning

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