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Jury decision in 2017 rape trial reignites push to rename London’s Paul Haggis Park – London

With a new city council comes a new push to rename Paul Haggis Park.

Two women’s groups in London, Ont., say they hope council members, who are due to be sworn in on Tuesday, will take over the case after a US jury last week ordered the London-born director to pay at least $7,000. US$5 million in compensatory damages to a woman who accused him of rape.

On Monday, Haggis, 69, was ordered to pay an additional US$2.5 million in punitive damages, for a total of US$10 million, or about C$13.3 million.

“The council needs to add this to their agenda immediately and deal with it,” said Jennifer Dunn, chief executive of the London Abused Women’s Centre.

“The city, at the end of the day, needs to make sure women and girls know they are not alone and that the city is going to support them, so now is the time to make that happen. “

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The allegations against Haggis, known for his films ‘Crash’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby’, first emerged in 2017 when Haleigh Breest, 36, sued the filmmaker, alleging he subjected her to advances unwanted sex in her New York apartment in January 2013, coerced forced her to perform oral sex and raped her despite her pleas to stop.

The two had previously met while working on film premieres in the early 2010s. Breest told the jury that he offered to drive her home after a screening party and invited her to have a drink in his apartment.

Haggis testified that Breest was flirtatious and, while appearing “conflicted” at times, initiated kissing and oral sex in a consensual interaction. The jury ultimately sided with Breest. Haggis has not been charged.

Four other women also testified that they had been subjected to violent and unwelcome passes – and in one case, rape – by Haggis in separate encounters dating back to 1996. None of the four have taken legal action. Haggis denied the allegations.

The jury’s decision comes months after Haggis was placed under house arrest for 10 days in Italy as authorities investigate allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman there. In August, an Italian judge ruled there was no reason to continue investigating the allegations.

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If the issue of renaming the park was on the next council’s agenda, it would be the second time city politicians debated the issue.

In early 2018, shortly after the allegations against Haggis became public, Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih filed a motion asking for the director’s name to be erased from the park, which bears his name in 2011.

Members of the Community and Protective Services Committee elected to receive Salih’s motion but took no action, while the full council defeated the motion by a 10-2 vote about a week later.

Reflecting on that decision on Tuesday, Annalize Trudell, prevention education manager at Anova, said a lot has changed since then when it comes to educating the public about sexual violence, noting that at the start of 2018, the #MeToo movement had just been emerging for months. earlier.

“Over the past few months, we’ve had a national conversation about Hockey Canada, sports, sexual violence and accountability. So I think there’s a different sensibility at this point than in 2018… There’s a sense that in many ways our justice systems are failing, our accountability systems are failing,” Trudell said.

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Trudell says last week’s jury decision against Haggis should prompt more thought about the policies surrounding the naming of municipal buildings and parks after individuals.

These policies came under scrutiny earlier this year after council voted to remove Private Mark Wilson’s name from a park and street after the London Free Press revealed Wilson was convicted in 2004 of assaulting a woman when the two were recruits in a military training program.

Wilson died two years later at the age of 39 after his armored vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan’s Panjwaii district.

“In recent years, and far beyond the reach of London, we have seen the danger of naming things after individuals, and I don’t know if we are necessarily as a collective ready to stop doing that. “said Trudell.

“I think we need to put in place a process that is kind of triggered by automated times when we know there’s damage that’s been done, to review the naming of those places,” he said. – she continued.

“That there’s no need for activists and community advocates…to say, ‘hey wait, I think you should think about this, it’s deeply connected to your strategic priority objective on women and girls and the Safe Cities’ initiative.

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Dunn agrees and thinks the overall approach should be to stop naming things after people in general.

“Look at the Paul Haggis situation that’s going on, and I mean, it’s tough because how far are you going to go with this?” Dunn said.

“So you’re going to name something after someone, and then if something happens, you’re going to change it?” It’s just a really long process to go through, when you at the end of the day you might just say, ‘okay, we don’t name things after specific people anymore.’

The city is conducting a review of its memorial naming process regarding city assets, a review that was spurred by Lyla Wheeler’s efforts to have Plantation Road renamed. A progress report on the review is expected before the civic works committee next month.

Dunn says the city contacted LAWC earlier this year to see if the agency would be willing to participate in focus groups to gather feedback from women with lived experience about memorial naming and what it would mean for them.

“We’ve been able to work with the city and do some of that work, and I know with their plan and how it’s going, that information is going to be put together and included in some of the work that they’re doing,” she says. .

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Global News has contacted County Ward 12. Elizabeth Peloza for comment, but has not received a response at the time of publication. Peloza told the London Free Press last week that she planned to contact city staff about the matter.

— With files from the Associated Press