Movie sets | Complaints about harassment are on the rise

Movie sets are also feeling the influence of the #metoo movement. According to the Quebec Alliance of Image and Sound Technicians (AQTIS), local section 514 AIEST, the number of sexual and psychological harassment reports on set increased by 35% in 2021.

Posted at 06:00

Marc-Andre Lemieux

Marc-Andre Lemieux
The press

By allowing women to speak in the fall of 2017, the social movement (and the viral phenomenon) partly explains the increase in harassment complaints, which rose from 20 to 28 last year.

“People are better informed,” said Christian Lemay, president of the union, which represents 8,000 audiovisual workers. “Today, people can recognize the dynamics of sexual and psychological harassment. They are also more united. If they see misconduct, they suggest that victims approach their employer. It is a culture change that is taking place in our community. †

Same story with Ghislaine Labelle, organizational psychologist, CHRP. Speaker and recognized mediator have a positive experience of the increase in the number of declarations. This would not reveal the existence of a more toxic environment than before. On the contrary.

“Before #metoo, people didn’t dare to talk at all,” she says. Today they come out of their silence. I’ve seen it in other sectors. We see an increase in complaints, then we see how the prevention mechanisms we have put in place can clean up the environment. †

According to Ghislaine Labelle, the cultural sector is lagging behind the more “traditional” activities in terms of harassment. Its members would only have reached “the stage of spades”, that is, of rejection.

Because they are employees with a precarious status, they believe that they are lost in advance. Usually they are hesitant to report situations of harassment or abuse because they fear the consequences. We must change this belief. You have to show them that they have power.

Ghislaine Labelle, psychologist

A training

To prevent sexual and psychological harassment in the workplace, AQTIS, Local Branch 514 AIEST, recently launched a free training course, conducted with financial support from the Government of Quebec.

“We want to make our members aware of the problem of harassment,” says Christian Lemay. We want to make sure they know their rights. †

This education is all the more important because of the employment status of the people who walk on film sets.

“We are still a community of freelancers,” emphasizes Christian Lemay. People don’t necessarily want to cause problems. We realize this because we receive harassment complaints once production is complete. Then it is often too late, because the investigative resources are no longer available to us. And if you open an investigation for something that was done months before, the employer is rarely concerned.

This is what we emphasize in the training: intimidation, you have to deal with it when it happens. It gives the research a greater chance of success.

Christian Lemay, President of the Quebec Alliance of Image and Sound Technicians (AQTIS), Local Branch 514 AIEST

Ghislaine Labelle, who has been supporting organizations for 25 years in establishing mechanisms that help create healthy, respectful and inclusive work environments, provides this free training to members of AQTIS, local section 514 AIEST.

“We show them how it starts, a harassment situation, what to do, how to assert themselves, the resources they have, how to start an investigation, etc.”

“I could talk”

The story of Véronique is one of 28 declarations received last year by the local 514 AIEST branch of AQTIS. Victim of an inappropriate gesture by a colleague at work while she was shooting an advertisement, the stage technician filed a complaint of sexual harassment.

The facts behind the case date back to June. The young woman has to move her car after lunch and bends down to retrieve her keys. Then she feels something in her back. Like someone is pulling something. As soon as she gets up, her Thai pants (which fasten at the front and back with a drawstring) begin to fall off. Véronique turns to see a male colleague, another technician with whom she has never worked. She asks him if he just takes his pants off. No reaction. She insists: “Why did you do that? †

“It was there to loosen up,” the man replies with a chuckle.

“I felt bad,” says the technician, who he met at a cafe in Montreal. “I had the feeling that a vice was straining everything. Like a disgrace that came over me. »

A few minutes later, Véronique unpacks her bag from the production manager, who invites her to go home without a financial penalty. He tells him that if he fires the technician involved, filming is in danger of being suspended because no replacement can be found. In the heat of battle, this explanation satisfies the main stakeholder.

I was unable to persist in saying, ‘No, he’s the one who must cry out from his camp; not me!” But when I think about it, he was the one who had to leave. If he hit someone, I didn’t feel like they kept him. It would have been frowned upon.

Véronique, victim of sexual harassment on set

Once at home, Véronique calls her union to ask what the options are. After naming the technician, she understands that the man in question has been doing this sort of thing for years, but no official complaint has ever been made about him.

“I was told there were a lot of rumours, but nothing in writing. This is one of the reasons why I filed a complaint. I wanted his file to be marked. To prevent him from making other victims.”

The complaint was dealt with several months later. No investigation was made because the man never challenged Véronique’s version.

At the end of the process, Véronique even wrote a letter to the technician involved so that he understood her approach. “I wanted to let him know that there are consequences to his actions, that he can’t do what he wants and then go to sleep. I wanted to change the shame camp. †

This speech helped Véronique a lot. “I did it for myself. I was able to talk. It allowed me to move on.”

Apart from stats

Not all cases of sexual and psychological harassment lead to the filing of a formal complaint.

The example of Ariane (fictional name) illustrates this reality well. In an interview, this stage electromachinist, who wishes to preserve her anonymity for fear of reprisals if she appears in public, tells of the nightmare she experienced in 2021, while participating in the shooting of a television series.

Ariane tells of a relationship that, after a very professional and “square” start, has taken a pernicious path. It was a hand on the shoulder, useless one-on-one dragging on, a touch applied during a sound recording, demanding silence—and immobility—completely from participants, etc.

The situation worsened during a day of filming outside of Montreal. The day before, Ariane had asked the other members of the group to make sure she wasn’t alone with the man in the truck.

Once there, his grievances reached the ears of the individual, through the stage manager. Isolated, Ariane was forced to contain the irritation of the technician herself, who vehemently rejected her claims. After spending several hours under high tension, listening to him scream to defend himself, the young woman began to think that she herself was the oppressor. “I got no support from anyone. The only person to apologize during our conversation was me. I promised to clear his name with people in the know.

“The only person who suffered from this conviction was me,” she adds.

According to Ariane, the monstrous labor shortage that hit the television shooting industry last year has not helped her. “The attackers felt they had complete impunity because there were so few technicians that they knew they would never be fired. †

Looking back, Ariane describes herself as “easy prey”. “I am quite an introverted person. I worked 16 hours a day, I slept little… I was in a weak position. I was in a vulnerable situation in the industry. I never made a complaint because it was too big. I didn’t want him to lose his job. I wanted him to stop, but I didn’t want him to be scratched off center. †

This setback has profoundly changed Ariane. Shocked, she decided to leave the big sets. Today she prefers smaller productions. “It traumatized me. When you play your place on every board, it’s hard to express your displeasure. It’s old school. You cash in to show that you are ready to make the next board. If a woman dares to open her mouth, it’s because she really got a kick in the ass. †

One way forward

AQTIS 514 AIEST is not the only group educating its members about harassment. For several years now, the Quebec Media Production Association (AQPM) has also been offering training courses. since 1er January 2019, the AQPM offers producers a model harassment prevention policy that, according to a law enacted on 1 . has come into effecter January 2019, should in particular provide for the phases of the processing of a cancellation.

Director of Labor Relations at the AQPM, Geneviève Leduc points out that this procedure was negotiated with the AQTIS 514 AIEST, the Union des artistes and the Association of Directors and Directors of Quebec. “If there is a complaint, the tools we have developed come in handy,” says Geneviève Leduc. Ariane, a victim of bullying at work last year, nevertheless questions this standardized way of dealing with situations like this.

“It’s nice to sign harassment policies, but nobody reads what they sign. It doesn’t change anything. There is no point. That to me is bullshit. What is really important is that we receive training. All heads of departments and all technicians must be subjected to it,” the young woman insists.

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