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In McKenna’s emailed response she suggested Treloar was adhering to the outdated tradition of casting only white women in these roles.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

A mature Garry oak fell onto Richmond Road on Oct. 13 near Camosun College Lansdowne campus. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Garry oak crashes down onto Richmond Road

Saanich responded to 59 tree-related calls

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich residents warned to watch livestock after bear kills llama

Officers with Conservation, Saanich police could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

The Kildonan mansion at 931 Foul Bay Rd. is part of the Oak Bay heritage registry. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Oak Bay declines Kildonan House permissive tax exemption

Council briefs include new transformer for Oak Bay Rec., strata policy

A 23-foot sailboat that broke free from its anchor was smashed against Cattle Point during the early October south-easterly storms. (Ron Geezin Photo)
Storm-smashed boat pulled off rocks of Cattle Point in Oak Bay

Sailboat a casualty of last week’s big storms

The Saanich Teachers’ Association is calling on the local provincial election candidates from all parties to commit to making schools healthier and safer for all. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich teachers call on election candidates for improved health, safety in schools

Increased funding, reduced class sizes among required changes, says association president

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

(File photo)
RCMP: Two men face charges in reported Parksville fatal hit-and-run

Investigation into man’s death began in August of 2019

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Steven Michael Bacon pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder of Nanaimo teen Makayla Chang. (Photos submitted)
Accused pleads not guilty in Nanaimo teen’s 2017 murder

Steven Bacon appeared in Nanaimo court Monday via video link from Thunder Bay

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read