Creating a cultural shift one step at a time

By Theresa Tova
Theresa Tova
ACTRA National Trea$urer and ACTRA Toronto President.
Over my years at ACTRA, I’ve fought in the trenches to help our union win gains on several important files. Yet on October 5, 2017, the Weinstein revelations, and the thunderstorm that followed, signalled a wake-up call and marked a turning point in my political life. As a woman, I struggled to understand how we got here. How did sexual harassment become so easily accepted as the norm in this industry I call home and, as a newly-minted president, how could I help make our lives better?

Admitting we couldn’t affect real cultural change alone determined our first steps. Within a few short weeks, we gathered creative industry stakeholders together and promised ourselves we would work to change the culture of bullying, sexual harassment and violence in our industry.

We recognized we needed to increase diversity and gender representation in decision-making roles in front of and behind the camera. We created three working groups to focus on creating a Code of Conduct, fostering industry-wide Education, Training and Awareness, and finding Safe Reporting Mechanisms.
ACTRA-hosted press conference addressing harassment in the creative sector on June 17, 2018. L to R: DGC Director of Communications Ian Gillespie, CMPA President & CEO Reynolds Mastin, ACTRA Equity Council VP Sedina Fiati, then Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly, ACTRA National Past President & FIA President Ferne Downey, ACTRA National Treasurer & ACTRA Toronto President Theresa Tova, ACTRA National President David Sparrow, M.P. Arif Virani, past ACTRA National Executive Director Stephen Waddell and WGC Executive Director Maureen Parker.
It became clear we needed to create a trauma-informed solution and this is exactly what we have done.
The Code of Conduct was launched on International Women’s day in March 2018 and now has over 100 signatories from across our industry.

The Education, Training and Awareness working group has gathered best practices both nationally and internationally and is committed to making effective anti-harassment training accessible throughout our industry.  

The promise to create a Safe Reporting Mechanism has taken longer to develop. First, we needed to consult with members who had lived this reality. With their guidance and support, we learned there wasn’t one answer that would magically serve the needs of every sexual assault survivor. Some just wanted to report abuses and be assured the bad behaviour would stop. Some wanted to remain anonymous, while others wanted to be coached on the options available to them to address these complaints. It became clear we needed to create a trauma-informed solution and this is exactly what we have done.

I’m proud to share that ACTRA National, in partnership with the Directors Guild of Canada, are about to jointly launch a 24/7 national Harassment, Violence and Emergency Reporting Helpline. We expect the official press release and detailed communications within a few short days. Born out of necessity, this latest step in our collective efforts will allow survivors to access specially trained counsellor. This two-year pilot project will shortly become a reality.
This Changes Everything screening at the February 2019 ACTRA Toronto members’ conference. Front row: broadcaster & producer/director Dr. Rita Shelton Deverell, WGC President Jill Gollick. Back row: ACTRA Toronto Women’s Committee TAWC member Rebecca Singh, ACTRA Past President & FIA President Ferne Downey and ACTRA National Treasurer & ACTRA Toronto President Theresa Tova. This important documentary supports the ongoing work to fight gender discrimination in our entertainment industry.
The good news is our members are telling us these efforts are making a difference... one step at a time.
While the helpline is welcome news, ACTRA's commitment to making our workplaces safer means our work will continue on many fronts. In the last Independent Production Agreement (IPA), we negotiated a bulletin on consent-based interactions. We've started to institute mandatory respect on-set courses. We’re working with our CMPA partners to improve on-set safety sessions and working on best practices for scenes involving nudity, semi-nudity, intimacy or violence.

The good news is our members are telling us these efforts are making a difference... one step at a time.

Top photo: 'Moving Forward Together' Academy of Canadian Film & Television panel featuring then CMPA VP Marguerite Pigott, NABET 700-M UNIFOR President Jonathan Ahee, producer/director Aisling Chin Yee, Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television CEO Beth Janson, DGC Co-Chief Negotiator Catherine Middleton, ACTRA National Treasurer & ACTRA Toronto President Theresa Tova on International Woman’s Day March 18, 2019 during Canadian Screen Week.

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