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ACTRA working to address sexual misconduct: Matas

The organization that represents Canada’s film, television and radio artists has undertaken steps to address the wave of sexual misconduct allegations in the industry that began with Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, says Toronto civil sexual abuse lawyer Anna Matas.

Matas, a lawyer based in the Toronto office of Lerners LLP, spoke recently at the ACTRA Toronto annual general meeting as part of a panel discussion on the law of sexual harassment and says the panel was “one part of their multifaceted response” to the issue.

Also on the panel was Victoria Shen, a lawyer hired by the group in October 2017 as a special advisor to review its policies and practices on harassment and human rights issues, and Deepa Mattoo, the legal director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, who spoke about the criminal process when sexual misconduct allegations are made.

Matas spoke about civil remedies, defamation and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, an administrative tribunal that assesses and awards financial compensation for victims of violent crimes, including sexual crimes.

“It was a very interesting panel,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“It was part of a broader initiative by ACTRA to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in the industry. It’s one of many steps the union is taking, including looking at all of their policies and trying to put in place a variety of resources that make it easier for members to report incidents and learn what their options are.”

One of the first things ACTRA did was to sign on to the Canadian Creative Industries Code of Conduct to Prevent and Respond to Harassment, Discrimination, Bullying and Violence. The code, which has roughly two dozen signatory organizations, was released in March.

Matas says members of her panel discussed how “the law has many ways of responding to what is essentially the same conduct. Depending on where sexual harassment and sexual assault happen — and the survivor’s relationship to the perpetrator — different legal options may be available.”

When there’s a pattern of sexual harassment in the workplace, “you have to see whether there is a collective agreement in place that has provisions to deal with that improper conduct,” she says.

“We have to check whether there’s a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claim to be made. The person also might have a remedy at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, or the other provincial equivalents.”

Other avenues to deal with harassment or assault include the criminal or civil process, Matas says.

“All of these different avenues have different outcomes. In civil litigation, which is what I do, individuals may obtain compensation from the person who harmed them, whereas a criminal proceeding could result in the perpetrator being convicted of a crime and going to jail.”

Panellists also discussed the importance of complainants “considering the remedy they want when choosing which avenue to pursue. To do that, people need to be informed about their options and what each one entails,” she says.

“People who have more information can make better choices. So it’s important for people to talk to a lawyer and learn about their options and obligations.”

Matas says for those who aren’t sure which legal route to take, the Independent Legal Advice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Pilot Program is available to people in Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay. Those who are eligible can receive up to four hours of free legal advice.

Speaking to a lawyer before taking any action, including speaking out online, can also prevent a defamation claim from the alleged offender, Matas says.

“People who make allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment through social media may find themselves on the receiving end of a defamation suit,” she says.

“Defamation is a real risk for people who have been harmed but don’t know what the boundaries are in terms of what they can say and who they’re allowed to talk to. Exploring your legal options is a critical first step in any journey towards justice.”

This article originally appeared on AdvocateDaily.com

Anna Matas

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