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Commit to harassment-free environment or forego federal arts funding: Joly


OTTAWA — Arts and culture organizations will now be required to commit in writing to providing a workplace free of harassment and sexual misconduct in order to receive federal funding, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly declared Wednesday.

Joly billed the new measure as part of her Liberal government's commitment to confronting sexual harassment in the wake of the worldwide MeToo and TimesUp movements.

"Victims have shown a tremendous amount of bravery and, of course, as a government, we stand with all of you," she told a news conference. 

"We heard loud and clear their call and now, we're in action mode."

Going forward, changes will be made to funding agreements, application forms and approval letters for any funding doled out by the Heritage Department and the Canada Council of the Arts, requiring recipients to explicitly commit to providing a harassment-free workplace.

Any artist or organization found to have broken that commitment would be subject to a review process that could result in loss of grant funding.

Though it never drew a direct link, the Liberal government's review of its arts funding policies — launched last January — came on the heels of allegations of sexual misconduct that were levelled against Albert Schultz, the founding artistic director of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre.

The government has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment, Joly said, adding she hopes introducing financial repercussions for any arts or cultural employer who violates the policy will help combat sexual misconduct in the artistic sector.

"These measures are a way to empower victims to speak up in the face of harassment, but also it provides a culture shift in that organizations will now have access to training," she said.

"Also Heritage and Canada Council (for the Arts) will have the levers to deal with organizations that are not putting in place best practices and that are not countering sexual harassment, abuse and harassment in all its forms in their workplaces."

More than 1,750 arts organizations across Canada will also have access to some $552,000 in funding for training and tools to help arts organizations build and maintain respectful workplaces. 

Simon Brault, director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, says the MeToo movement shed an important light on "unacceptable realities" within cultural sector.

"Not only do we need to take note of this movement but we also needed to act collectively so that this sordid reality becomes never again," Brault said.  

As a public institution, the Canada Council for the Arts needs concrete measures that match its funding principles, he noted.

Operational policies have been reviewed to ensure mechanisms are in place to deal with "disturbing situations" involving artists or arts organizations that receive Canada Council funding, Brault said.

"From now on, when applicants accept a council grant, they must absolutely commit to offer safe working conditions and a supportive work environment free of discrimination and sexual misconduct."

Joly said she hopes the shift toward calling out bad behaviour and promoting respect and empowerment will continue.

"This is happening in the cultural sector first and this will, I hope, influence all sectors of society."

Mia Kirshner, an actress who helped found the AfterMeToo initiative to address sexual harassment in the screen industry, was one of the many women who have spoken out against U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein over alleged sexual misconduct.

In a tweet posted Wednesday, Kirshner applauded the federal government for the steps it is taking to create safe workspaces within the arts sector.

"This is just the beginning," she tweeted. "Thank you for being a leader."

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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