Albert Schultz was relieved of his duties as artistic director and co-founder of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company on Wednesday as a lawsuit was filed by four actresses who claim that he sexually harassed them and engaged in sexual battery against them over a period of 13 years.
The four women, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan, Diana Bentley and Hannah Miller, are the plantiffs in separate civil lawsuits, which name both Schultz and Soulpepper in the statements of claim.
In total, they are seeking damages of $4.25 million from Soulpepper and $3.6 million from Schultz.
The company says Schultz will be off the job, pending an investigation.
The women describe Schultz as a “serial sexual predator” in their lawsuits, and allege he groped them, harassed them and made unwanted sexual remarks to them in the 2000 – 2013 time frame.
“Albert is a serial sexual predator who had well-developed methods for targeting actresses and luring them into situations that he considered optimal for sexually harassing and assaulting them,” reads a statement of claim. The plaintiffs go on to accuse Soulpepper of allowing these alleged crimes to go on unabated.
“Mr. Schultz abused his power for years. My clients fully intend to hold him and Soulpepper Theatre Company accountable. Their brave lawsuit is the first step towards righting this incredible wrong,” said Alexi Wood of St. Lawrence Barristers, LLP, counsel to the actresses.
Schultz, 54, co-founded Soulpepper, the city’s largest not-for-profit theatre company, in 1998 along with 11 others. He is a member of the Order of Canada and has starred in Canadian TV series like Street Legal and Alias Grace. He currently executive-produces CBC’s hit show Kim’s Convenience, which is a TV spinoff of a Soulpepper play.
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“By means of background, Kim’s Convenience is independently produced for CBC Television by Thunderbird Productions. In light of the serious allegations made public today, we expect Thunderbird will take the necessary actions to ensure a safe and respectful workplace and we have conveyed that to them,” wrote Emma Bédard, senior manager, public affairs at CBC.
“Thunderbird has a strict no tolerance policy against harassment of any kind, and strives to provide a safe environment for all of our employees,” said Thunderbird’s director of communications Nicola Pender. “Soulpepper’s Albert Schultz is one of several executive producers on the television series Kim’s Convenience. His executive producer position was appointed by Soulpepper Theatre, the company who presented the play upon which the series is based. Mr. Schultz is not an employee of Thunderbird and does not have an active role in the day-to-day production of Kim’s Convenience. We are saddened to hear about the allegations and have the utmost respect for the complainants and due process.”
Like disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting more than 100 women (he denies any accusations of non-consensual sex), Schultz wields exceptional power at Soulpepper and in the Canadian theatre industry as a whole. Not only is he artistic director at Soulpepper and a big figure in Canadian TV, but he’s also the general director of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
Also akin to Weinstein, some of the plantiffs’ allegations are of a similar nature: Schultz allegedly exposed himself to the women backstage, and he’s accused of touching them, frequently and inappropriately, without consent. He’s even accused of inserting himself into scripts during rehearsal so he could grope and kiss the actresses in the scene. Often, the women allege, this would take place in front of a packed house.
The Globe and Mail is reporting that at least five artists currently with Soulpepper plan to file their resignations unless Schultz departs the theatre company. Two of the company’s founding members, Ted Dykstra and Stuart Hughes, wrote to the publication confirming that they are fully supporting the women.
“We wish to stand solidly behind our colleagues who have come forward with a suit against Albert Schultz and Soulpepper Theatre,” reads their joint statement. “[It] is our hope that by supporting them we are sending a message to organizations everywhere: Sexual harassment in the workplace cannot be tolerated. By anyone.”
In October 2017, longtime Soulpepper guest artist and director Laszlo Marton was fired from the company after many allegations of sexual harassment were reported against him in 2016.
The company said, at the time, that it was “dedicated to creating a safe place of belonging.”
All four plaintiffs are holding a press conference on Thursday morning in Toronto to discuss their claims.
None of these allegations has been proven in court. As of this writing, neither Soulpepper nor Schultz has made a public comment about the accusations.Follow @CJancelewicz
*with a file from the Canadian Press
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