Ottawa restaurateurs embrace anti-harassment training

Some Ottawa restaurant owners are welcoming news that Ontario is earmarking $1.7 million over three years for anti-harassment and sexual assault training in their industry.

'Slapping on the ass, inappropriate touching, crude and lewd remarks' part of pervasive 'old-school' culture

Ivan Gedz and staffers at Union Local 613 once wore skimpy women's clothing to highlight discrimination in the restaurant business. (CBC)

Some Ottawa restaurant owners are welcoming news that Ontario is earmarking $1.7 million over three years for anti-harassment and sexual assault training in their industry.

Women's Issues Minister Tracy MacCharles made the announcement on Wednesday. 

The goal is to help servers identify and intervene in instances of sexual violence and harassment between employees, managers and customers. MacCharles said restaurant and bar managers, operators and owners will also receive the training, which will teach them and their staff how to intervene in a safe way.

Ivan Gedz, co-owner of Union Local 613, said outdated attitudes are still pervasive in the hospitality industry.

"There seems to be this old-school, 'Well I had to go through it, this is how I was treated, so it's OK that other people have to' [attitude]. It's sort of like a hazing kind of thing," Gedz told Alan Neal on All In A Day.

Those "old-school" attitudes manifest themselves in a variety of ways, Gedz said: "Slapping on the ass; inappropriate touching; crude and lewd remarks, both to men and women."

He said the biggest problem stems with what he called the "hyper-sexualization of females in the workplace," including women being forced by some employers to wear revealing attire.

"If senior management, if ownership are forcing people into a certain aesthetic, the action of doing so, unto itself, I think sets a precedent that can be adapted to other forms of behaviour. I don't think that's a big stretch. So abolishing archaic workplace practices like that — first and foremost — would be useful," said Gedz.

"Maybe the labour code has to be displayed somewhere in an open area for the staff to know their rights. Information being available to the staff on a consistent basis."

Young women most affected

MacCharles said the majority of the 450,000 servers in Ontario are young women, and not all of them know exactly what sexual violence and harassment look like.

New regulations that take effect Thursday require employers to have a policy that makes it clear who investigates in cases where the alleged harasser is the owner or supervisor, and to provide written results of any investigation.

Rod Castro, business operations manager at the Carleton University Students' Association, told All In A Day that he has already instituted many of the practices suggested by the province at Oliver's Pub on campus.

We sort of feel a heightened responsibility to really try to provide that training.- Rod Castro, CUSA business operations manager

"I know we've taken matters into our own hands a number of years in the past and implemented advanced training as far as all our staff. We're a little different in that most of our staff are in that 19 to 20 (age range). They're just entering the workforce. They're just entering this industry. We sort of feel a heightened responsibility to really try to provide that training, to sort of establish what the new norms are."

Castro said unacceptable behaviour needs to be called out whenever it happens, and that starts with managers and owners.

"This is something we need to embrace fully and let that filter down. I want these individuals to feel empowered that when they go through this training and start to recognize something ... that they don't feel tentative or hesitant to go to a manager. 

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters at Queen's Park on Thursday the training will give bartenders and servers the tools they need to recognize behaviour that is unacceptable. 

"This is about creating a safe environment," she said. "It won't be anything that puts those workers at risk."

With files from The Canadian Press