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Whale Tooth at uOttawa. Photo courtesy of Ming Wu on the Apt613 Flickr Pool.

Codes of conduct in a changing Ottawa music scene

By Apartment613 on December 4, 2018


By Emma Kenny

More often, local punk and DIY shows are creating codes of conduct to outline behaviour expectations for patrons. These codes, also known as safer spaces policies, might read “all attendants are expected to treat one another with respect,” or more bluntly “shitty behaviour gets you the boot.” The Ottawa music scene is undergoing a slow revolution to more clearly and firmly establish itself as a place where misfits of all kinds—not just the white, cisgender, straight ones—can feel safe and welcome. And codes of conduct are a big part of this change. To get more information about this change, I asked Rachel Weldon. Weldon has been booking, organizing, and promoting DIY shows as the co-director of Debaser for the past five years, in addition to managing the program for MEGAPHONO Festival. Rachel describes DIY shows as “emerging/underground artists playing shows for the sake of playing great shows.” When I ask Weldon if she could pinpoint when she became aware of the need for safer spaces in live music, she references a movement in the Canadian music scene towards “improving accessibility and community accountability.” She credits Elsa Mirzaei, musician, co-founder of DIY Spring and community educator with Project SoundCheck, as a role model for creating a safer scene.

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IDALG #shredfest finishes off our first night of #OXW17 come see us tmo night at St. Albans

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Mirzaei identifies safer spaces policies as a “starting point in the bigger picture” of creating safer music scenes. They describe the way the training Project SoundCheck provides “supports festival and event staff/volunteers by empowering them with the skills to safely check in and intervene in potentially harmful situations.” Beyond that, Project SoundCheck is starting conversations, and “playing a role in a larger cultural shift by giving people the opportunity to address the issue of sexual violence at festivals, instead of ignoring it.” Mirzaei notes that safer spaces policies “help set community standards” and “help festivals hold themselves accountable.” However, problems can arise when it comes to enforcing these policies, a concern that Weldon echoes. “The really tricky thing, though, is what to do when you become aware of someone who has perpetrated abuse or oppressive behaviour,” says Weldon. When it comes to enforcing the policy, she encourages organizers to remember that they “have a responsibility . . . to support vulnerable people.”

“The really tricky thing, though, is what to do when you become aware of someone who has perpetrated abuse or oppressive behaviour.”

So, what does effective enforcement look like? Mirzaei wrote that it can “look different from event to event,” but they did list adequate lighting and enough security and volunteers to make it easy to find support as essential. Making sure everyone working the show is “on the same page with responding to situations surrounding harassment and violence of any form” creates the conditions for a solid enforcement plan.

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One local fest that’s been part of this shift is the sadly defunct Ottawa Explosion Weekend (RIP). I asked organizers Azarin Sohrabkhani and Emmanuel Sayer about the comprehensive OXW code of conduct, which includes an anonymous reporting tool. “Having a code of conduct was important to develop for and with the OXW community, because it helped set the expectations and responsibilities of everyone involved,” says Sohrabkhani. “We wanted to make sure that we could always refer to this code if it was ever breached or abused.” Both Sohrabkhani and Sayer mentioned the importance of consultation in creating the code of conduct to ensure that the “messaging is direct and meets the needs identified in the community.” Sayer notes a “simple and clear” code is best, including what the repercussions are for violating it. “Sharing it with bands and venues . . . as well as with attendees will make sure that everyone is aware of the code and can help identify any actions that go against it,” Sayer says. This sort of collective awareness is exactly what helps show-goers, band members, venues and bookers work together to create a safer music scene.

“It’s on us . . . to care enough about the safety of our events to educate ourselves on things like harm reduction and bystander intervention.”

These codes of conduct indicate a desire to make our music scene safe. But, how do we really do that? “As an event organizer,” Mirzaei says, “it’s on us . . . to care enough about the safety of our events to educate ourselves on things like harm reduction and bystander intervention.” While they acknowledge that venues and bookers haven’t always cared about these issues, there are lots of resources available now to change that. Mirzaei said it best: “Live music is such a big part of people’s lives in Ottawa, and if we want to keep nurturing the growth of our scene, we need to make sure it is safe for everyone.”