City Hall

Victoria City Council recommits to ending sexualized violence in the city's hospitality industry

The city seeks to address concerns about sexual assault in Victoria through new measures for businesses and council

By Emily Fagan
May 30, 2021
City Hall

Victoria City Council recommits to ending sexualized violence in the city's hospitality industry

The city seeks to address concerns about sexual assault in Victoria through new measures for businesses and council

By Emily Fagan
May 30, 2021
Protestors rally in downtown Victoria following rape allegations against a bar manager at Chuck's Burger Bar, who also worked at other establishments. James MacDonald / Capital Daily
City Hall

Victoria City Council recommits to ending sexualized violence in the city's hospitality industry

The city seeks to address concerns about sexual assault in Victoria through new measures for businesses and council

By Emily Fagan
May 30, 2021
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Victoria City Council recommits to ending sexualized violence in the city's hospitality industry
Protestors rally in downtown Victoria following rape allegations against a bar manager at Chuck's Burger Bar, who also worked at other establishments. James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Allegations of sexual assault and harassment shook Victoria’s nightlife industry earlier this year in a reckoning that, this month, reached City Council. In response to calls for reform by survivors and advocates of sexualized violence prevention, efforts to institute sexualized violence prevention training in bars and restaurants have been renewed and Council will also be engaging in their own trauma-informed training in the months to come.

This comes at a critical moment for the city, as indoor dining reopened for restaurants and bars this week, and nightclubs are anticipated to open their doors for the first time in over a year in July.

“The city is responding with all of the tools that we have in our toolbox,” Mayor Lisa Helps said. “The ultimate outcome is that working in a restaurant or bar or going to a restaurant or bar is safe for people of all genders—it's really about customer and worker safety.”

On May 13, Council passed a motion put forth by Coun. Jeremy Loveday and Coun. Sarah Potts to create an industry-led working group focused on preventing sexualized violence in the hospitality industry, and promoting a culture of consent. 

These efforts has brought hope to longtime sexualized violence prevention advocates like Elijah Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC). However, he remains wary of a potential loss of momentum in the coming months, as has been seen with previous projects around sexualized violence.

“Sometimes things get started and then get sidelined,” Zimmerman said. “I'm just really hopeful that given the attention paid to it at this moment, that there is a deep commitment and that's going to be sustained.”

A reckoning

In the hopes of preventing sexualized violence in local bars and restaurants, council passed a motion in 2019 to pursue mandatory sexualized violence prevention training for staff of restaurants and bars in Victoria. The motion proposed mandated sexualized violence prevention training, adding the prevention of sexualized violence to the Municipal Liquor Policy and Late Night Program’s mandate, and for businesses applying for a liquor license to submit a sexualized violence prevention plan.

Following that motion, Potts says it fell to city staff to report back with options for council to consider. But it took nearly two years and widespread allegations of sexual misconduct before this issue returned to council. 

Originally, council intended to explore mandating the training through the liquor license or business license policy for these establishments. But Potts said concerns over imposing additional burdens on already struggling businesses made council rethink that approach.

“Cities are always concerned with liability and hesitant around taking risks, and this isn't something that has been done before,” said Potts. “However, there is an appetite for [this] from industry ... so I think it's just helping to lay the groundwork to advance this.”

Council appointed Potts and Loveday to the working group.

“I think that the City of Victoria should be doing more and can be doing more, and I hope that over the next little while we'll see the city really show leadership in ways that perhaps other municipalities can follow suit,” Loveday said.

So far, Zimmerman is optimistic for the work this group will accomplish.

“Having chatted with different folks that are going to be at the table with the working group, I'm just very excited,” Zimmerman said. “I think there's a lot of potential given who's been invited in terms of council members, industry members, and also people working in nonprofits.”

In the interim, Helps says city staff are developing procedures to ask businesses for a plan for preventing sexualized violence within their application for a liquor license. This voluntary measure is anticipated to emerge within the next few months, but won’t allow the city to mandate that businesses create a plan. 

“We can ask and we would certainly hope, given the importance of this issue, that anyone that's applying for a liquor license would have the thoughtfulness to put that forward as part of their application,” Helps said.

Currently in the works is a policy for council to compel businesses to submit a sexualized violence prevention plan alongside any liquor license application with the “fullest extent of our municipal authority,” Loveday said. He expects it will be up for discussion in the next few months.

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Additionally, as Victoria bars and restaurants reopen, Good Night Out Vancouver is offering free sexualized violence training workshops to any Vancouver Island establishments between mid-June and April 2022. 

Another motion council considered around this issue was put forth by Coun. Stephen Andrew, who called for the creation of a task force containing survivors, members of the justice system, and advocates. This proposed motion came in the wake of backlash to comments made by Andrew on Twitter, which he has since retracted and apologized for, that Victoria does not have a “rape culture.” 

Since the #MeToo movement, the concept of rape culture has been adopted to explain a pervasive normalization of sexualized violence and victim-blaming in society. In response, many survivors have since shared their experiences of sexual assault in Victoria—and how, in many cases, they feel their experiences were normalized or mishandled.

This motion was met with a mixed response from the community, both from advocates who are grateful for action on this issue and from those who are critical of the lack of consultation with survivors and groups Andrew named to participate in the task force. Andrew confirmed that he did not consult with any groups prior to creating the motion.

“It didn't account for how it was going to fall into the strategic plan goals [and] it didn't provide a critical analysis of how it was going to further support or advocate the ongoing stuff that was already underway,” said Alex Kierstead, from Survivors Support Victoria.

Alex Kierstead, co-founder of Survivors Support Victoria. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

Ultimately, Andrew says the task force motion was wrapped into the work being carried out by Loveday and Potts. 

“It's a complex issue we're going to be dealing with, and I think that this is only the beginning,” he said. “I'm really anticipating that we'll see that Councillor Potts and Councillor Loveday are going to come back with something really intriguing and responsive to the needs of our community.”

A trauma-informed approach

Some survivors, including Kierstead, have been vocal in efforts to call for mandatory trauma-informed training of city councillors and staff along with a code of conduct for councillors, particularly in the wake of Andrew’s retracted comments. 

“Everyone experiences traumatic stress in their life and having a trauma-informed practice will better help [council] bridge that gap between policy and the people,” she said “Having that training will hopefully allow more people to think twice before maybe they say something.”

The implications of this training go beyond issues of sexualized violence, to Kierstead—she sees engagement in discussions around unhoused communities and people who use substances as also benefiting from this.

In a statement to council on May 13, Kierstead pointed the retracted comments on rape culture made by Andrew as highlighting the necessity for this training, but not the only instance where she feels the need was evident.

Andrew said that he was not willing to discuss his retracted tweet.

“I am happy to comment. If we are planning to regurgitate the criticism of my clumsy tweet—I’m not really that interested,” he said.

Andrew says he is in support of trauma-informed training for councillors, calling it “a great idea.”

Helps has committed to holding the training for councillors in an upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting. 

“[It’s] kind of cool because it means that the public will be able to not only see their council being trained, but the public will be able to tune in and maybe learn something from that training as well,” she said.

Local survivors and their allies called on local government to take action to prevent sexualized violence in an April 19 rally. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

“I think it's really important as community leaders that we model the kind of behaviour and the kind of action that we'd like to see in the community at large.”

Helps anticipates the training will be scheduled sometime in the next two to four months. As for the calls for a code of conduct, they will be taken into consideration during this year’s governance review for council.

Looking forward, Potts feels most of the current plans council has discussed will be implemented over the next year. She’s looking into other work on this front too, including supporting efforts by VSAC and collaborating with the sexual assault reporting tool VESTA. Reporting has been a major challenge, she says, and one she wants to investigate solutions to through survivor-centred organizations.

“I know that change is slow and we won't change this culture overnight, but I don't think we could possibly wait any longer than a year given what our community is facing right now,” she said. “With the action of the survivors’ community, I don't think that there's going to be any space to wait any longer and I'm really grateful for their advocacy to create that momentum.”

Loveday expressed frustration at the delay in results from the 2019 motion, and feels that addressing sexualized violence in Victoria is an issue that can’t wait any longer.

“This can't just be a response to news stories—it has to be an admission that these issues have been happening in our community for a very long time,” said Loveday. 

“Now that it has been brought to the light, there is no excuse for not playing an important role in ending sexualized violence and undoing rape culture in our community.”

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