#AfterMeToo event calls for new policies against sexual misconduct

The outcry against sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry and beyond is loudly declaring that "the status quo isn't good enough. We can do better," according to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

'We can do better,' justice minister tells crowd at two-day symposium

The lead organizers of the #AfterMeToo symposium, from left, filmmaker Aisling Chin-Yee, actor-producer Freya Ravensbergen and actor Mia Kirshner, speak at the event in Toronto on Wednesday. (CBC)

The outcry against sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry and beyond is loudly declaring that "the status quo isn't good enough. We can do better," according to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Wilson-Raybould gave the keynote speech Wednesday at the #AfterMeToo symposium, which brought together members of the Canadian film and TV community, sexual violence researchers, psychologists, justice system experts and activists in Toronto to discuss practical ways to combat pervasive sexual harassment, assault and abuse.

That the event — the conclusion of two days of talks — took place on both the anniversary of the École Polytechnique shooting and the day Time magazine bestowed its Person of the Year title on the "Silence Breakers" behind the #MeToo movement wasn't lost on attendees.

"We have to do everything we can to encourage individuals that have faced sexual harassment or violence or discrimination generally to come forward and tell of their lived experiences. We have to continue that conversation," Wilson-Raybould said, adding that the Time acknowledgement was "fantastic."

"Dec. 6 is an important day in our history as a country. We need to ensure we combat violence in every place that we can."

"Because of what happened a few weeks ago, because of our own stories getting heard, we finally had your attention. We finally had the attention of our own industry," filmmaker Aisling Chin-Yee told the crowd.

List of recommendations

She and her fellow lead organizers — actor Mia Kirshner and actor-producer Freya Ravensbergen — then unveiled a brief rundown of the recommendations, aimed the industry and government, that emerged from Tuesday's closed-door talks. The recommendations include:

  • A unified, industry-wide response to sexualized violence.
  • Expanding the definition of "workplace."
  • Mandatory yearly education for all industry members on harassment intervention policies, bystander intervention and how to report harassment.
  • The creation of a fund, into which all industry members would pay, to support survivors and victims of harassment (in order to fund trauma health care, legal assistance and more).
  • Increased government support of universal, timely access to mental health services for survivors.
  • The establishment of online reporting systems that minimalize the retraumatization of victims.
  • The establishment of an independent national body to receive and investigate reports of sexualized violence, with the power to enact punitive measures.

Tuesday's talks were filmed and will be released in early 2018 at aftermetoo.com along with a more formal and detailed report. 

Amid the talks, several recurring themes emerged, including the repeated call for a safe reporting system for those coming forward with complaints (and a way to track any reprisals) and an independent body for investigating claims.

The need for widespread education — for everyone from the general public to police, prosecutors and judges — was also underlined.

'Build-up of rage'

"There's a certain build-up of rage at seeing powerful people get away with this and not be held accountable. It's really exciting to see the public talk about this," Dr. Jennifer Freyd, a psychologist and University of Oregon professor, told CBC News. She added she's used to people "turning away" when she publishes a study about sexual violence.

"Now there's this opportunity to share that info. And it can really make a difference, for instance, in simple things like how to respond to someone when they disclose they've been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. Just knowing how to respond in a way that will help them and not hurt them — that can be taught. That's education that can happen very quickly," even beginning with primary school children, she said. 

Jennifer Freyd, a psychologist and University of Oregon professor, talks to CBC News at the symposium. (CBC)

Making sure law enforcement and the judiciary are educated and up-to-date is also key, according to Hadiya Roderique, an organizational behaviour researcher at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business and an attorney with a background in labour, employment and human rights law.

"We have some of the strongest sexual assault laws in the world," she pointed out. "The problem is enforcement. The problem is the police actually following due diligence in doing what they're supposed to do. It's judges knowing how to apply the law correctly." 

Stop throwing [your] support behind people who are harassers.— Hadiya Roderique, lawyer

While there is a groundswell of people calling for a cultural shift right now, "we have a deeply ingrained, misogynistic, racist culture that we need to confront and not be afraid to say that this exists," Roderique said.

The highest echelons of leadership must be behind the desire to shift workplace culture — or else it's just not going to work, she added.

"One thing I would like to see organizations do, in particular, is stop throwing their support behind people who are harassers and who are predators because what you're saying is that you don't trust yourself as an organization to be able to find someone who can do the job just as well and who can do it without assaulting someone."

Researcher and attorney Hadiya Roderique says enforcement of Canada's existing sexual assault laws is the problem. 'It's judges knowing how to apply the law correctly.' (CBC)

Kirshner, who identified herself as a victim of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in a blistering opinion piece this fall in the Globe and Mail, has been urging everyone to seize the moment and push forward for real change.

"I tried to say something 22 years ago and I wasn't heard," she told the attendees. 

"This is not about the entertainment industry, this is about every industry because sexual misconduct exists in every industry and I'm sick of it. It's our job to protect one another because we are all accountable."