Discrimination complaints against the Victoria Theatre and a director will be heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. (Google Earth)

Racial discrimination complaint against B.C. theatre to proceed

Applications denied to dismiss racial discrimination complaints against theatre, director

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has determined a racial discrimination complaint against the Victoria Theatre will proceed.

Complainant Tenyjah Indra McKenna says she was denied a role in a Victoria production because she is black. In August 2017, McKenna emailed director Judy Treloar about auditioning for a role in a local production of Les Belles-Soeurs, a two-act play about four sisters living in Montreal in the 1960s.

READ ALSO: Estheticians can’t be forced to wax male genitals, B.C. tribunal rules

The play was being produced through the Victoria Theatre Guild and Dramatic School [Victoria Theatre or the Langham Court Theatre], a non-profit community theatre group that has presented more than 500 shows with approximately 4,000 actors since 1929.

Tribunal documents released in November say that when Treloar learned McKenna was black, she said that “a black woman could not be a sister or neighbour in the play.”

An excerpt from her email correspondence reads: “As much as I do not like saying this, the fifteen women in this play are Quebecois women and the play is set in Montreal in 1965. A black woman would not be a neighbour or a sister in this play, however, I would love to meet you and hear you read.”

Treloar says her comments were specific to the neighbourhood where the play takes place and denies discriminating against McKenna. She also claims she apologized and offered to meet with the actress.

In McKenna’s emailed response she suggested Treloar was adhering to the outdated tradition of casting only white women in these roles.

“I also wonder – if you are hesitant to cast a black actor to ensure historical accuracy, how many Quebecois or French‐speaking actors will you be casting?” she wrote.

READ ALSO: B.C. woman files human rights complaint alleging racial discrimination by former boss

The Victoria Theatre says it offered McKenna a “reasonable settlement” and made structural changes to address future complaints and “ensure their productions would be more diverse and inclusive.”

In meeting with the group’s general manager and production co-chair after the incident, McKenna asked that Treloar be removed as director.

Treloar was not removed and the play went ahead at the Langham Court Theatre from Nov. 15 to Dec. 2, 2017.

In September 2017, McKenna filed a complaint against both the theatre and Treloar.

In June 2018, the Victoria Theatre made a “with prejudice” settlement offer which included information on updated diversity and communication training and a $1,500 settlement offer to McKenna for injury to her “feelings and self-respect.”

To date, McKenna has not responded to the settlement offer.

Tribunal member Beverly Froese denied both the theatre and Treloar’s applications to have the complaints dismissed, calling the $1,500 settlement offer “not within the reasonable range” and submitting that even after the theatre became aware of and condemned Treloar’s comments, “no steps were taken to ensure that [her] casting decisions were made in an appropriate and non-discriminatory manner.”

Froese writes, “Treloar maintains her belief that having an all‐white cast in the play is historically accurate and appropriate because it is consistent with previous productions of the play across the country.”

READ ALSO: Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

Froese also points to Treloar’s submission that she had offered her resignation but was convinced to stay on as director because the theatre “supported her artistic vision for its presentation.”

In her decision, Froese says “given the nature of the allegations and the often subtle and insidious nature of racial discrimination, a full evidentiary hearing is required to consider whether the remedial actions taken by the respondents adequately remedied the alleged discrimination.”



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Studies show Mount Polley Mine breach material re-suspends in Quesnel Lake

High copper levels continue in Quesnel River six years after breach

UPDATE: Wildfire northeast of Clinton put out by BC Wildfire Service

Fire at 51 Mile Creek suspected to be lightning-caused

Barkerville keeping busy hosting tourists amid COVID-19 pandemic

The historic town opened July 3 with a number of safety measures in place

Fish studies continue on Quesnel Lake after mine breach

Aug. 4, 2020 will mark six years since Mt. Polley Mine breach

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Wild’s Mathew Dumba makes anti-racism speech, kneels ahead of Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Matt Dumba, 26, took to center ice to speak on behalf of fellow members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance

Most Read