Toronto bartenders rally to increase sexual assault training at local bars

Bartenders Against Sexual Harassment (BASH!) was created after police charged two employees of College Street Bar with forcible confinement and sexual assault

In the wake of a string of reports of sexual assaults at Toronto bars, most recently at College Street Bar, bartenders are rallying together for a night of fundraising to help raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment.

On Monday (January 16), Civil Liberties will host Toronto bartender Veronica Saye and BASH!, which stands for Bartenders Against Sexual Harassment, to raise money for specialized anti-assault training in the bar scene. With the money, the Sexual Assault Action Coalition can expand its Dandelion Project, which aims to train workers in licensed venues across the city “around sexual assault, anti-harassment policies and procedures.” 

“From these hard times, there has been a movement within our community across Canada,” writes Veronica Saye, former beverage manager at Bar Begonia, on the event’s Facebook page. “And I, like many of you, want to be involved in making this industry a safe and inclusive place for everyone.”

Last month, College Street Bar’s owner and another employee were charged with the forcible confinement and sexual assault of a 24-year-old woman. The charges have not been proven in court. But the news of the allegations galvanized Saye to take a stand.

“The fact that somebody that owned a bar was even in a situation where he could be accused of that means that he’s doing something wrong – that’s what’s important here,” she says. “[I encountered this] very early on in my career. I remember a bouncer took advantage of a girl, almost 10 years ago now, and the police were called. It was a huge deal. It was at an uptown bar that just opened up [at the time]. And the owners of that place just didn’t do anything about it. They didn’t seem to care. As far as I remember, the bouncer stayed employed.”  

So how can Toronto’s bar patrons feel safe? Saye says current frontline efforts to prevent assault tend to be bartenders acting on their own out of concern. But in Saye’s experience, without proper training or safety standards in place, intervention on the part of bar staff can go awry very quickly.

“It’s part of our own duty. If you see these instances you’re going to do something about it,” she says. “But I’ve seen [confrontations] go wrong as well. I’ve seen bartenders get involved and I’ve seen it become angry or violent. Accusing someone of doing something can go in a lot of wrong directions.”

Get more info about the event here. | @ShantalOt

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