London, Ont. city council moving forward with motion to rename Paul Haggis Park

Screenwriter and film director Paul Haggis, centre, leaves court after being found guilty in a sexual assault civil lawsuit, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in New York. AP / John Minchillo

Following a renewed push to rename Paul Haggis Park in London, Ont., city council is moving forward with that motion.

Ward 12 Coun. Elizabeth Peloza is leading the charge, along with Mayor Josh Morgan and Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis. They are preparing a motion to remove Haggis’s name from the park after a U.S. jury ordered the London-born film director to pay at least US$7.5 million in compensatory damages last week to a woman who accused him of rape.

Read more: Filmmaker Paul Haggis ordered to pay additional $2.5M in rape suit

“Now that there’s been a conviction in a civil suit, I think we have to move on this fairly quickly,” Morgan told Global News.

Last week, Haggis, 69, was ordered to pay an additional US$2.5 million in punitive damages, for a total of US$10 million, or about C$13.3 million.

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Allegations against Haggis emerged back in 2017 after a publicist accused him of raping her in his New York apartment in January 2013.

Click to play video: 'New rape accusations against Canadian director Paul Haggis'
New rape accusations against Canadian director Paul Haggis

He wasn’t criminally charged in the matter.

Haggis insisted that he had been falsely accused and was financially ruined by fighting the civil case, vowing to appeal.

The jury’s decision came months after Haggis was placed under house arrest for 10 days in Italy as authorities investigated allegations he had sexually assaulted a woman there.

He also denies similar allegations against four other women who testified during the trial that they had experienced “forceful, unwelcome passes,” with one also alleging she had been raped, by Haggis in separate encounters dating back to 1996.

None of the four took legal action.

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In 2018, following the surge of allegations against Haggis, city council debated removing his name from the White Oaks-area park, named after him in 2011, after former Ward 3 councillor Mo Salih tabled the motion.

The full council rejected the motion with a vote of 10-2.

Read more: Jury decision in 2017 rape lawsuit reignites push to rename London’s Paul Haggis Park

Since then, women’s groups have been urging the new council to reconsider the motion, now following the recent removal of Trooper Mark Wilson’s name from a city street after Wilson was convicted in 2004 of assaulting a woman while the two were recruits in a military training program.

Paul Haggis poses in front of the Paul Haggis Park sign Jan. 20, 2017.
Paul Haggis poses in front of the Paul Haggis Park sign Jan. 20, 2017.

In regards to removing Haggis’s name from the park, Morgan said “we have a goal in our strategic plan to create a safe city for women and girls, and I think that that removal of his name at this time is very reflective of that goal.”

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The city is also conducting a review of its street-naming policy after a petition was started to have Plantation Road renamed  The review is still in the works and no recommendations from city staff are expected to come back to council until 2023.

“We’ll look at the approach that we’ve taken to both naming streets in the past as well as naming them in the future,” Morgan said. “There’s certainly been some challenges not just in our city, but all cities, when you name something after someone, you know, sometimes you got to make adjustments to it and change it. So, I think just looking at the policy as a whole is the right way to approach this.

“In the meantime, we’ll continue to have to deal with issues as they arise as one-offs but I’d much rather have a coherent policy that can address this upfront.”

— with files from Global News’ Matthew Trevithick.

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