City calls for sexual harassment training for bar staff

Dec 14, 2016

kwtcThe City of Toronto quietly adopted a Motion on November 8, 2016 calling for better training for bartenders and waiters to help them recognize and intervene in cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Motion was introduced by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and adopted 35-4.

Such training would be delivered through Smart Serve, which is a mandatory program for anyone who serves or handles alcohol in the course of their employment in Ontario. The program is run by a not-for-profit but overseen by the Province, meaning that the City’s motion isn’t binding on Smart Serve.

However, the City joins a growing list of organizations calling for this training, including the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.

From a legal education perspective, Smart Serve is a bit of an anomaly. Not a lot of workplaces require the completion of a compulsory program to explain legal obligations to new sector workers. (Another example is WHMIS training, which is mandatory health and safety education for those who work with hazardous materials.) But that’s precisely why groups are calling on Smart Serve to deliver this information, as opposed to using another mechanism.

At the moment, Smart Serve has a strong focus on teaching those entering the profession that individual employees can be sued if they overserve a customer who then gets behind the wheel of a car.

When it comes to sexual violence, Smart Serve only refers to sexual harassment of patrons in the context of behavioural changes that might take place as inhibitions wane. The training does not contain advice specifically about how server should intervene in such situations. It also doesn’t address other bar scenarios, such as: patrons sexually harassing staff; instances of intimate partner abuse; the use of roofies; and other predatory behavior.

These are areas where public legal education would be really useful. The Province of Ontario and Smart Serve may also wish to consider, if it goes down this road, touching on other common human rights issues that arise in bars and restaurants. Such topics could include:

  • accessibility for patrons with disabilities;
  • racialized assumptions about patrons;
  • sexualized uniforms and attire;
  • gender segregated spaces like bathrooms; and
  • the rights of breastfeeding customers.

If Smart Serve does undertake this kind of an update, there is ample opportunity for improvement. Better human rights training would benefit everyone: patrons, servers and bar owners alike.

Symes Street & Millard specializes in employment and human rights law. It has expertise in advocacy both inside and outside the courtroom, as well as in policy development.

By Marcus McCann; photo from

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