Toronto theatre board approves incomplete sexual harassment policy

Jan 25, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

On Thursday, the board of directors for Civic Theatres Toronto approved the new performance arts organization’s employment policy, intended to set out options for how employees may deal with violence, harassment and discrimination if it happens to them on the job. Civic Theatres Toronto is a new board that runs the city’s three theatres: the Sony Centre, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, and the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Instead, the board approved an employment policy that actually highlights (in yellow on pages 4 and 10) that the third party has not been determined. In both places, the employment policy before the board said, “if you believe that you have experienced violence, harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace, you may also consult and/or file a complaint with the following third party XXXXXXX at (###-###-####).”

The approval of the city’s theatres’ employment policy comes amid high-profile, job-ending sexual harassment allegations against former artistic director of Soulpepper Albert Schultz, and former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party Patrick Brown.

Clyde Wagner, president and CEO of Civic Theatres, told the board that work on the employment policy predates the controversies in the news and explained there are two options for providers of a third-party line that have not yet been decided. The first would be a City of Toronto Human Rights Office phone line provided to employees of the City of Toronto (but not the city’s boards), and the second would be provided through an external party such as a lawyer who specializes in human rights who would set up a line.

“Ideally, we would like [the City of Toronto’s] to be the place where people can call,” Wagner said. “It would be the natural place… They’re already staffed for it, they’re equipped and trained and they have all the system in place so we would like that to happen, and we’re just going through that dialogue with the city now to find it.”

Paul Parsons, senior corporate management and policy consultant in the city manager’s office, said the city and Civic Theatres Toronto are discussing the possibility of the city’s equity, diversity and human rights office and the human resources division providing the theatre company’s employees with a phone line they can call to report issues.

“We’re exploring that, [but] it may be a resource issue. Our other [city] agencies don’t do that right now. We may be able to assist them in finding an appropriate third party, but we’re just beginning those discussions,” Parsons said.

Kathleen Sharpe, Civic Theatres board member and chair of the policies and priorities committee, wants to see the policy clarified. “There’s still a little bit of openness to it until the city comes back and says yes, they’re prepared to act as the [provider of the complaint phone line]…  but I do think the third-party piece is absolutely crucial, and I think that’s what we’re seeing was missing was some of the things that are going on in the press.”

Another Civic Theatres board member, Steven Levitan, wants to see a system that puts distance between the administrator of the phone line and the theatre organization.

“I think in terms of claims for workplace safety or sexual harassment or anything on the job, that it’s appropriate for employees and staff to have a choice of whether to pursue their complaint inside the city theatres’ administration, or with a third party,” Levitan told Signal Toronto after the meeting. “If that third party is the city that’s good, the city’s normal administration for these kinds of complaints. If it’s a party that’s completely not related to the theatres or the city, that’s even better.”

Details of how the third-party phone line would operate, such as the cost, the purpose, and the advantages to it being administered by the City of Toronto versus an outside lawyer, were not parsed at the Civic Theatres Toronto board meeting.

Wagner told Signal Toronto he hopes the talks with the city will progress so a decision will be made by the end of Friday.