TORONTO -- The union for Canada's TV and film performers says it's expediting its discipline processes for sexual harassment and assault complaints.
At a panel discussion on sexual harassment hosted Friday by the organization behind the Toronto International Film Festival, ACTRA Toronto president Theresa Tova outlined a number of immediate steps the union is taking as it also works with other industry stakeholders on longer-term strategies.
Among the immediate steps is a plan to "investigate and get things happening" on serious allegations of sexual misconduct within 48 hours, she said.
ACTRA has also rebranded its after-hours, anonymous emergency reporting system as the Sexual Harassment and Emergency Hotline and is "plastering it everywhere," encouraging members to call if they have had an experience they'd like to share.
"It goes directly to a counsellor, a company that does this for us, and/or it goes straight to our executive director or our staff, and people are there with you, immediately," Tova said in an interview.
"Many, many, many are calling us now about situations they've never reported before, ever," she said, adding they have "some cases that are now going forward."
Tova said ACTRA has also hired a lawyer -- a human rights specialist who has worked in the industry -- to be their in-house adviser and guide complainants on what their choices are, how they can proceed and what they can do.
"That's a big part of it -- protecting our members going forward," said Tova. "You just have to call us. We're committed 100 per cent. We are there for you."
Having a hotline that results in immediate action is crucial given that victims of sexual harassment and assault have often had to work with their abusers while a complaint was investigated, noted actor/filmmaker Nicole Stamp, who moderated the panel chat.
"In film time, if you get assaulted on Monday, you're back on set on Tuesday and it might be a really intense day where you can't call in sick," said Stamp.
"It's more difficult than in many workplaces where you might be able to get a little bit of time away from the person that abused you. On a film set, you might be right back in with them the next day."
Friday's talk also included representatives from the Directors Guild of Canada and the Canadian Media Producers Association, who met with ACTRA and other industry stakeholders last week about how to work together to end sexual harassment.
Also on the panel were filmmakers Patricia Rozema and Melanie Chung, Alix Herber of the Labour and Employment Law Group, and producer Martin Katz of Prospero Pictures.
Audience members included filmmakers Sarah Polley and Jennifer Baichwal.
Many on the panel said the industry is at a "watershed moment" in which organizations are working together to change the entire culture. That includes having zero tolerance, ending complicity, achieving parity, diversifying the power structure, and creating a future in which abuse is less likely to happen.
Stamp said she felt "it was a really productive discussion" in which the panellists were speaking candidly and "were comfortable being a little bit vulnerable in explaining some of the process."
"What I find really heartening about this discussion is the extent to which we're all on the same page and we're all adopting the same near-term, tangible tools and practices that can lead to real change on the issue," said Marguerite Pigott, vice-president of outreach and strategic initiatives at the CMPA.
"Canada will be the leader in anti-harassment," added Tova.
"We will announce it to the world. I've said to a few producers, 'Are you afraid that you will lose business?' and they go, 'Absolutely not. We need to do this.' I think we'll gain business because people know when they come to Canada, you're protected."