Alcohol servers should be trained to spot sexual assault, Toronto councillor says

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam would like bar and restaurant staff to be better trained to spot and intervene in incidents of sexual harassment and violence.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam wants mandatory training for alcohol servers to be updated

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam believes more needs to be done to make sure servers of alcohol know how to identify and deal with sexual assault and harassment. (CBC)

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam would like bar and restaurant staff to be better trained to spot and intervene in incidents of sexual harassment and violence.

Wong-Tam will ask city council on Tuesday to consider requesting that Smart Serve — the training program that all alcohol servers in Ontario have to pass — is updated to include measures on how to deal with sexual assault, harassment and violence.

"As establishments that are profiting from the sale of alcohol, then they themselves have a responsibility to make sure that their guests and their clients get home safely," Wong-Tam told CBC News on Monday.

Bar staff are already trained to look out for patrons who have reached their limit of alcohol consumption. Knowing how to step in when an incident appears to be escalating or when someone seems to be forcing a person into an interaction against his or her will should be no different, Wong-Tam said.

'Tinder date gone wrong?'

The motion follows an earlier announcement by the provincial government allocating $1.7 million in funding over three years to train bartenders and servers to identify sexual harassment or violence, and intervene where necessary.

But Wong-Tam argues that alone isn't enough. 

"They already have a program called Smart Serve and every single person who actually serves alcohol in restaurants as well as bars and establishments should be taking that training, so why not just integrate that altogether? That's what I'm specifically asking," Wong-Tam said.

Ryerson University campus pub Ram in the Rye didn't wait for a motion like Wong-Tam's to come into effect before training its staff to respond to sexual assault.

Michael Verticchio, general manager of the university's student centre, told CBC News Monday that staff there have already taken training in how to identify and respond to such situations.

"I'm incredibly proud that we're doing it," he said, but added "it's a little disconcerting that we're the first."

Verticchio says the bar's next move will be to implement a version of a sign posted by the British bar The Brickyard that went viral earlier this year.

"At any point you want to de-escalate the situation. So doing it discretely, not making the situation bigger, being able to talk to both parties ..."

'An important step'

Trinity-Spadina Coun. Joe Cressy is seconding Wong-Tam's motion.

"One of the many ways we can look to protect people is to ensure that those who serve alcohol do so with the necessary training," he told CBC News.

At present, the Smart Serve certification course takes three-to-four hours to complete, and can be done online or in a classroom.

Wong-Tam's motion is in step with the province's plan to end sexual violence and harassment, called "It's Never Okay."

That plan includes a commitment to develop training for workers in the hospitality sector to "empower them to know how to help when they encounter high-risk situations."

In her motion, Wong-Tam said that the provincial plan for hospitality is an "important step," but notes that it does not extend to all servers of alcohol.

"The province has initiated their plan," said Cressy. "This would be an added step."