In the Wake of #MeToo

This piece was previously written for Convergence Magazine.

What the Canadian media industry will be doing to keep up with modern social demands

By O’Niel Barrington Blair

Before the allegations against high profile provincial and federal politicians, musicians and entertainers, #MeToo was the cry heard from people in the film industry.

It was a movement aimed at getting other sexual assault victims to come forward and share their stories. #TimesUp then became the social movement that took aim at leaders in the industry to stand up and make change.

In Canada by late 2017 people were looking for change and calling for equal of treatment and opportunity in the workplace. This movement gained momentum like a snowball rolling down Parliament Hill gaining mass as it went.

Patty Hajdu, who tabled Bill C-65.
(Courtesy Government of Canada)

Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Employment Workforce and Labour Minister and the first female Liberal in her riding, has been at the forefront of trying to pass a bill to protect people from physical and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The former Minister of Status of Women told the House of Commons in November that the movements were a great start, but now it is time to enact change.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that light does not fade,” Hadju said during her speech.

Her proposal, Bill C-65, would aim to strengthen existing policies for preventing harassment of all kinds in the workplace. It includes strict privacy rules that would protect those who speak out against sexual harassment.

The bill states sexual harassment is defined by any conduct, comment, gesture or contact of a sexual nature, especially if it’s likely to cause offense or humiliation to the victim.

By January of this year MPs agreed to a motion to fast track the bill. Matt Pascuzzo, Hajdu’s press secretary, says it is in the hands of the committee to review. They will then vote on it and come to a conclusion.

Pascuzzo says Hadju has always been a person who tries to be at the forefront of helping people. She used to run a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay. And it’s her deep passion for helping people that brought her to tabling the bill.

Pascuzzo says Hadju’s “not scared to speak truth to power.”

Erika Osmani is a woman who started working in the film industry three years ago. Like many women, she is conflicted about whether long term changes, such as the proposed policies, will be made in the industry. Osmani discovered her love of film while studying Liberal Arts.

“Film was always an escape from my reality,” Osmani says.

But a woman in the film industry, especially behind the cameras, is a noticeable minority and deals with their own set of challenges. She is an electric and lighting technician for three years.

“More often than not I’m surrounded by men,” Osmani says.

She finds that sometimes her ability is doubted before she even has the chance to prove herself.

Osmani says she understands the film industry started as a boys club and the remnants of those roots can still be felt. She feels like she has to work twice as hard for half the recognition.

She is also conflicted about whether she is a woman in the film industry or just a person in film. There are so many discussions and opinions about men from female groups she has been invited to join on social media.

“The amount of man-hate has me discovering where I stand in this industry,” Osmani says.

She says she doesn’t want to participate in man-bashing and feels that some women who aren’t even a part of the movement blame their lack of success in the industry on men.

Kathleen Drumm, with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), acknowledges there is still work to be done.

The director of industry for TIFF says the association notices women are underrepresented behind the scenes in film. To show its appreciation, TIFF enacted a five-year commitment to showcase female talents.

“Share Her Journey strives to advance better inclusion, accessibility and diversity in film for women filmmakers,” she says.

The Share Her Journey program is funded by donations from individual donors. TIFF seeks to open the door for a diverse range of women to showcase their talents behind the camera.

This initiative began last year and plans to continue for three more years, according to TIFF.

Pascuzzo says the five-year time frame will give TIFF enough time to see the impact of their initiative and then make changes to reflect their research.

Beyond film and politics, Keetha Mercer, the manager of violence prevention programs at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, says #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have also been great for public profiles, there are still a lot of women in regular day-to-day jobs who deal with workplace harassment.

Mercer says workplace harassment is a big issue in a lot of male dominated fields.

She says women most at risk for workplace harassment are migrant workers who are in poverty and are in Canada on a work visa. According to Mercer, many migrant workers fear if they speak out they will possibly risk termination of their job, which could lead to deportation.

She says it would be amazing to have more transparency and better policies in place to protect workers filing complaints.

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