Why 2 Toronto performers have launched an online sexual harassment support group for actors
Actor Nikki Bon's Instagram post accusing acting coach of sexual assault viewed nearly 7,000 times
It happened eight years ago, but Nikki Bon says she remembers the lesson with a Toronto acting coach in vivid detail.
"He started massaging my arms and it got to the point where he started saying, 'Do I turn you on? Do I turn you on?'" the actor, comedian and writer told CBC News.
"And he starts touching my face, and then he started kissing my neck without my permission. I f**king froze, I didn't know what do to because I was so confused at the time."
This was all before the MeToo movement — the public outing of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men like producer Harvey Weinstein that started in Hollywood in 2017 and spread around the world. It was that same movement that rocked the Canadian theatre industry in 2018 with allegations of sexual misconduct against founder and artistic director Albert Schultz at Toronto's critically acclaimed Soulpepper Theatre.
And now, Bon and fellow actor and writer Claire Cavalheiro have launched a Facebook and Instagram page called Keep Actors Safe, so those in the industry can share their experiences. In the six weeks since its launch, they say they've heard hundreds of accounts of harassment and abuse.
Bon says it wasn't until this summer that she mustered the courage to go public about that alleged sexual assault back in 2012, posting a video on Instagram describing what she alleges happened when her acting coach was preparing her for a scene.
"He was bigger than me in the industry, and I didn't want people to shun me," she explains in the video.
"I just didn't think I was anything, or I'd be protected, and I would never work again."
The video has now been viewed nearly 7,000 times. CBC News has reached out to the man Bon has accused but so far he has not responded. Bon says she does not want to press charges.
Right now, she and Cavalheiro are focusing on helping others with Keep Actors Safe.
"It was really intense and overwhelming because nothing has been available to people like this before, where they felt they could tell someone, be validated and have their story heard — and be safe about doing so," said Cavalheiro in an interview with CBC News.
The two performers are now calling for more stringent background checks in the industry.
In a statement to CBC News, the union that represents about 25,000 performers in film, TV and radio in the city, ACTRA Toronto, says it is aware of Bon's Instagram video.
"We have been in active discussions with our members, leaders, and industry partners to address the issue of sexual harassment occurring in the context of a teaching or coaching session," the union's special adviser Victoria Shen writes.
"While we can't comment on specific incidents involving individual members, ACTRA Toronto members interested in pursuing a complaint against another ACTRA Toronto member should contact the director of member services."
The union says actors have the option to pursue complaints under its constitution and bylaws or be referred to legal options. ACTRA also has a hotline available for members wishing to report workplace harassment and get access to counselling.
But Bon says it's the support from others on the web pages that's making a big difference for many.
"That validation of other people saying that isn't okay really helps you distinguish between the behaviour, the actor and the coach and what is right and what is wrong."