Ed­mon­ton-area MLA’S el­e­va­tor ha­rass­ment shines #Metoo spot­light on Cal­gary Stam­pede


Jes­sica Lit­tle­wood was re­turn­ing to her down­town ho­tel room af­ter a night out with friends dur­ing the Cal­gary Stam­pede when she had an un­set­tling en­counter.

It was 1:30 a.m. and the NDP mem­ber of the leg­is­la­ture was rid­ing alone in the el­e­va­tor with two men who seemed drunk. As the pair were about to exit the el­e­va­tor, one asked Lit­tle­wood to go back to their room and give them oral sex.

Lit­tle­wood won­dered if any­one would be awake to hear if she were at­tacked, or how quickly she could ac­cess her phone.

“It was just an off­hand re­mark, but I didn’t know if I was go­ing to get back to my ho­tel room in one piece,” she said in an in­ter­view. “They saw me as easy pick­ings.”

The men left, and Lit­tle­wood got back to her room safely. She tweeted about the in­ci­dent on Tues­day to high­light an all-too-com­mon re­al­ity for many women: “Sex­ual vi­o­lence is real. Please help us fix this.”

Years be­fore #Metoo, a group of Cal­gar­i­ans launched a so­cial me­dia cam­paign of their own to tackle some of the less savoury as­pects of Stam­pede, an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of cow­boy cul­ture that for 10 days ev­ery July seizes the city with a party at­mos­phere.

Of­fice work­ers trade suits for bolo ties, check­ered shirts and jeans. Bars and pa­tios are packed and there are cor­po­rate shindigs aplenty.

“We started talk­ing about the not-so-great parts of Stam­pede, where for years and years the cul­ture of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and ‘any­thing goes sex­u­ally’ was ram­pant and no one was re­ally talk­ing about it,” said Pam Krause, CEO of the Cen­tre for Sex­u­al­ity.

The group started the #Safes­tam­pede cam­paign on Twit­ter in 2015. It has since ex­panded to train­ing Stam­pede staff, in­clud­ing those who work at the rol­lick­ing Nashville North mu­sic venue on the fes­ti­val grounds, on how to re­spond to any un­to­ward be­hav­iour they wit­ness.

“As #Metoo came along, I thought we started some­thing re­ally small along same lines lo­cally a few years ago,” said Krause, re­fer­ring to the so­cial me­dia move­ment that has in­spired women to speak out against the sex­ual mis­deeds of some of the most pow­er­ful men in Hol­ly­wood, pol­i­tics and the me­dia.

Krause said she was pleas­antly sur­prised by how en­thu­si­as­ti­cally Stam­pede of­fi­cials em­braced the #Safes­tam­pede cam­paign.

In reit­er­at­ing the Stam­pede’s sup­port for the ini­tia­tive, CEO War­ren Con­nell said in a re­lease last week: “We be­lieve putting on a cow­boy hat is an op­por­tu­nity to el­e­vate be­hav­iour and I would en­cour­age all ci­ti­zens to be ac­tive by­standers — if you see some­thing, say some­thing.”

Krause said she’s also no­ticed a big dif­fer­ence in Stam­pede-week mar­ket­ing this year, such as fewer scant­ily clad women on bill­boards and more of a fo­cus on fam­ily friendly fun.

“The aware­ness that #Metoo has made is huge. The spot­light is shin­ing. I think it has made peo­ple think about their ac­tions.”

Debby Car­reau, CEO of In­spired HR, said in the #Metoo era, Cal­gary em­ploy­ers need to take spe­cial care dur­ing Stam­pede.

“It’s a great op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to get to know each other, to build new con­nec­tions, to have some fun and blow off some steam with co­work­ers,” she said.

But em­ploy­ers need to have firm sex­ual mis­con­duct poli­cies, train em­ploy­ees on the rules, com­mu­ni­cate in ad­vance what the ex­pec­ta­tions are in so­cial set­tings and en­cour­age mod­er­a­tion while cel­e­brat­ing.

When al­co­hol is in­volved, work and fun can get mixed up, said Car­reau.

“Most of­ten when we see chal­lenges hap­pen, it’s re­ally the lines get­ting blurred be­tween the two and peo­ple not clearly un­der­stand­ing what the ex­pec­ta­tions are around ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour when it’s work or quasi­work re­lated.”


Jes­sica Lit­tle­wood, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-ve­gre­ville, in Ed­mon­ton on Tues­day, Oct. 17, 2017.

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