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Actors’ union to assist performers with recovery of unpaid wages after criticism it did not warn members for weeks

After weeks of mounting pressure and backlash that it did not protect members, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) said Tuesday it will now help to recover missing wages for performers represented by a Toronto talent agency that allegedly withheld thousands of dollars in payment for jobs completed months ago.

In an email sent to artists and obtained by the Star, ACTRA Toronto President David Gale said union staff will assist clients of Compass Artist Management Inc. (CAM) by reaching out to production companies which originally hired the actors and issued the cheques.

“ACTRA Toronto has created a CAM Payment Recovery Assistance Portal to co-ordinate communications between CAM clients seeking payment and the original employers,” said Gale, noting staff have been reassigned to handle the intake of cases and contact the productions involved.

The union noted, however, that it cannot help recover missing payments for work on non-union projects.

Alistair Hepburn, executive director of ACTRA Toronto, said in a statement to the Star on Wednesday that Compass’ bank has “outlined a process for recovering payments where it can be demonstrated that the intended payee was not paid.”

A declaration form must be completed for each disputed cheque, which is then sent to the original issuer — the production companies — which can then direct their own bank to initiate a “chargeback” for Compass’ bank to review, according to Hepburn.

“It is not uncommon in this industry for production companies to be set up as single project entities that close their doors once production is complete,” said Hepburn. “In such cases, the union is in a better position to reach out to the parent companies than individual claimants might otherwise be.”

The union’s announcement comes after significant backlash from some of its members and marks an apparent about-face from its previous messaging. Former Compass clients who spoke with the Star claimed ACTRA reportedly knew about CAM’s unpaid wages but for weeks did not warn clients, who lost thousands as a result.

A mid-October meeting with ACTRA representatives and Compass artists, of which an audio recording was reviewed by the Star, was tense and at times confrontational, with actors continually pressing the union to explain their lack of communication over the past two months and ACTRA executive members tersely shutting down any line of questioning surrounding the union’s actions.

ACTRA has defended its actions, consistently stating the union has no “legal standing or jurisdiction in contract disputes between performers and their agents,” and that it had received legal advice that a general email notifying clients about the complaints against Compass would have constituted libel. (ACTRA did not answer the Star’s question about why an email containing a statement of fact would be considered libelous.)

In a previous public statement issued in early November, ACTRA did not indicate they were preparing to help artists recover the missing payments. Instead, they suggested that it was the performers’ responsibility to settle disputes with their talent agents.

“If you are unable to get satisfaction through correspondence, you do have the option to take the agency to small claims court,” read the statement, which is addressed to affected artists and still posted on the union’s website.

Actor Kenton Blythe is one of many affected by Compass Artist Management, a Toronto-based talent agency which is withholding thousands of dollars from members.

Kenton Blythe, a former Compass client who said he is owed more than $2,000 by Compass, said he is relieved ACTRA is now taking action. “It seems these giant wheels are turning to get us our money back,” said Blythe, while also noting there is still little immediate financial relief for affected performers.

Blythe believes the media coverage and pressure from affected artists has led ACTRA to make a more “concerted effort” to help the performers. “This, to me, is the first tangible thing that is actually happening to help us artists,” he said.

Dale did not provide a timeline for the recovery but said the union is hoping for a “speedy process.”

As previously reported in a Star investigation, dozens of artists are reportedly owed more than $500,000, collectively, by Compass, which ceased operations on Oct. 19. The Toronto Police financial crimes unit said in mid-November it has received more than 60 complaints concerning the agency and has opened a criminal investigation.

No charges have been laid and the allegations have not been tested in court.

In a statement to the Star provided for a previous story, the agency’s director, Daniel Philip Friedman, said he never did anything “with bad intentions” or malice.

“I couldn’t feel worse or be more genuinely sorry and sad about how this has affected people. I hope people will believe I left no stone unturned to try and resolve this before it got to this point,” he said in response to the allegations. “I also want people to know that I am not sitting on money, assets, secret homes in the Bahamas, etc.”

Many screen actors, including former Compass clients who spoke with the Star, are paid through their talent agency, which receives cheques from production companies in care of the clients they represent. The agencies then deduct their commission before sending the payment to their client.

In the wake of the alleged incidents, performers have called on the provincial government to enact legislation that would protect artists from talent agents acting in bad faith. Unlike other jurisdictions, including British Columbia and California, Ontario does not have industry licensing standards for agents and management companies.

In his email Tuesday, Dale said ACTRA Toronto has already met with government officials and representatives of other unions, guilds, and associations to discuss possible legal protections for artists. “Our goal is effective legislation that will protect all performers,” he said.

Despite repeated inquiries from the Star over several weeks, the ministry of labour, immigration, training and skills development has not explained what types of protections it will introduce.

“The ministry is not able to provide further details regarding the legislation as regulations are still in the development phase,” said ministry spokesperson Jennifer Rushby in a statement to the Star issued Wednesday. “We are currently consulting on the supporting regulations that would prescribe details related to various aspects of licensing and the scope of businesses and individuals covered by it.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

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