Juno Fest is here. What are venues doing to crack down on sexual misconduct?

The two-night music festival will take over London this weekend. We ask organizers and venues what steps they’re taking to prevent sexual harassment and assault
By Carly Lewis - Published on March 15, 2019
workers loading music equipment into a venue
Last year’s Juno Awards were presented in Vancouver; the 2019 event will take place in London. (Daryll Dyck/CP)

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The 48th annual Juno Awards will land in London this weekend, and with them, an opportunity for the city’s music venues to think more proactively about the prevention of sexual misconduct. 

Leading up to the ceremony on Sunday evening, Juno Fest, a two-night live-music festival, complete with an extended 4 a.m. last call, will pack 17 of London’s bars and venues with locals and visitors alike, some of whom will overlap with patrons out for St. Patrick’s Day.  
    
While sexual-harassment and misconduct-prevention organizations such as the Dandelion Initiative and Good Night Out have become common in the nightlife culture of major cities, London, with a population of approximately 385,000 and a mid-size-but-mighty music scene, does not yet have any initiatives dedicated to addressing such issues. The Junos have forced that conversation to take hold in a more official way, amplifying what is usually confined to whisper networks. 

Savanah Sewell, a London-based event organizer, who is on the Junos host committee (and who also works as program manager of London Girls Rock Camp), says that the presence of such a large-scale event “elevates” the dialogue about sexual misconduct. “Having the Junos in London brings a national voice to the conversation,” she says, adding that the involvement of groups such as Women in Music Canada, a non-profit advocacy network for women musicians, and Anova, a London-based organization that provides shelter and counselling to survivors of gender-based violence, helps to validate the efforts of people already advocating for safe-space policies at a local level. 

Megan Arnold, a London-based artist and electronic musician, says conversations about safety in London’s music scene happen “more amongst community members and less at the level of actual venues.” Arnold notes that unofficial event spaces, such as galleries and house shows, tend to be less resistant to examining the potential for risk and putting forward preventative measures.

“DIY venues and alternative music spaces are more likely to promote safe-space guidelines and have policies visibly posted,” she says. “That doesn’t seem to be a thing at larger venues or bars.” (An increasing number of North American music venues now have anti-harassment policies posted on their walls and appended to online promotions. In 2015, Toronto advocacy group Noise Against Sexual Assault began offering posters to local venues reading, “No racism. No sexism. No homophobia. No transphobia. No violence. No sexual violence. No emotional violence. No ableism. Yes respect. Yes you.”)

Last July, the London Free Press reported on the local music industry’s silence on the issue of sexual misconduct at music festivals. Journalist Megan Stacey asked organizers of Rock the Park, Sunfest, and Home County Folk Festival whether they’d ever received reports of harassment or misconduct occurring at their events. All said they had not.

But research on sexual misconduct suggests a different reality. A 2014 study conducted by the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program at the Ottawa Hospital found that approximately 25 per cent of sexual-assault cases treated by its staff in the previous year had occurred at large public events. In 2017, the Chicago-based Our Music My Body campaign conducted a survey of 520 concertgoers: 92 per cent of female respondents said they’d experienced some form of sexual harassment at a live-music event; 60 per cent of transgender respondents said they’d been physically assaulted at a live-music event.

In February 2018, in an interview with music magazine Exclaim!, the former manager of now-closed London music venue the Embassy said that a young woman had been found unconscious and without shoes a block away from the venue following a 2005 Hedley concert. After the woman was taken to the hospital, he said, doctors concluded that she’d ingested Rohypnol. According to the article, the woman’s shoes had later been found in the band’s green room.

That sexual harassment and assault occur within the music industry and at live-music events is indisputable. The argument is no longer about whether sexual misconduct happens, but rather about who should be responsible for eradicating it. With all eyes on London this weekend, more pressure is being placed on venues to take on a preventative role.

“There are so few venue owners and promoters who aren’t cis men,” says Arnold. “They don’t necessarily need to have that conversation, so why would they, without pressure?”

(Juno Fest is being produced by Brandon Eedy, production manager at London Music Hall. Eedy, citing time constraints, declined to speak with TVO.org.)

Ahead of last year’s Juno Fest, in Vancouver, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the non-profit organization that oversees the Junos, offered to subsidize Good Night Out Vancouver’s sexual-assault-prevention training for officially sanctioned venues. Although the bill was covered, few venue owners chose to participate. Some people, including Good Night Out Vancouver co-founder Stacey Forrester, felt that CARAS should enforce mandatory safe-space training for all Juno Fest venues so that owners wouldn’t have the option to ignore available education. (Good Night Out Vancouver’s training helps bar and venue staff assess and mitigate the risk of sexual misconduct and teaches de-escalation techniques.) “You have to take WHMIS training to learn why toilet cleaner shouldn’t go in your eyes. You should also have to take sexual-misconduct training,” Forrester told the Globe and Mail last year.

CARAS has not made safe-space training mandatory this year. In an email to TVO.org, a representative explained: “The reason that the training for this year has not been made mandatory by CARAS is because these venues are not the organization’s place of business and therefore they cannot enforce the mandatory training of their staff.”

The organization did support a public information session called Raising the Bar, which covered both naloxone training and bystander intervention. The March 4 event was organized in partnership with the Canadian Live Music Association and was facilitated by local organizations Over the Bridge and Anova. The CARAS representative stated that information about Raising the Bar was included in email promotions sent to the music industry. (The CLMA will continue to host Raising the Bar training in other Canadian cities.)

“We tend to attract a crowd that is looking for quality over quantity, so what we’re thinking about now is how that will change over Junos weekend,” says David Thuss, worker-owner at Juno Fest venue London Brewing, whose staff attended Raising the Bar training. Thuss says that, in addition to hiring security, he and his colleagues have planned to overstaff and have a worker-owner present for the entirety of Juno Fest to support frontline employees. “We’re sort of doing this independent of any larger movement,” he says. “Realistically, Raising the Bar training should probably be happening all the time. If we had been doing some of this in January or February, rather than right at the beginning of March, when we’re two weeks out, there could have been a greater back-and-forth.”

Tim Schwindt, music and creative director at London’s Gateway Church, a Juno Fest venue, told TVO.org by email, “We weren’t aware of the training being offered on March 4; however, we do already have solid protocols in place for these types of issues, and we seek to consistently have a healthy, positive, safe atmosphere for everyone who enters our doors for any event.”

Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, says that “more and more festivals are working with local grassroots organizations to deploy strategies on-site.” The goal of Raising the Bar, says Benjamin, is to educate and promote proactiveness and to foster an industry-wide dialogue about misconduct. “The live-music industry has never been organized through an association before, so this is a huge opportunity for us to have a conversation as a sector.” (The CLMA, formerly known as Music Canada Live, was founded in 2014.)

During Junos weekend, CARAS, the CLMA, Women in Music Canada, PwC Canada, and the Unison Benevolent Fund, which provides mental-health resources to Canadian music professionals, will host a private event for CARAS members — industry professionals who pay an annual fee and vote for Juno Award winners — called Allies in Action, hosted by Benjamin. In an email to TVO.org, a CARAS representative said that the event “will showcase the initiatives and programs that the industry has been working on over the past year to make positive change in relation to diversity, inclusion and safe work places.” Though the event’s itinerary is unclear (multiple CARAS members told TVO.org that they’d been unable to find any details on the organization’s members-only website), a list of participants, sent to TVO.org, includes London West MP Kate Young, CARAS president Allan Reid, and Lieutenant Jenn Martin of the Royal Canadian Navy.

“Ultimately, what I’d like to do is get to the people who are the perpetrators, the people who are assaulting,” says Benjamin. “I’m optimistic that if we all work really hard, and if fans are listening and we enlist the support of artists to get the message across, that we’ll move the needle. We’re going to get there.”

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

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