Monday, January 5, 2015

Comedian Bill Cosby shows to go ahead in Canada despite opposition

In this Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, comedian Bill Cosby performs at the Stand Up for Heroes event at Madison Square Garden in New York. AP
Diana Mehta The Canadian PressMaureen Dragasevich still has fond memories of gathering with her family to listen to Bill Cosby’s jokes as a kid. When she heard the comedian would be performing in Ontario, she and her siblings bought tickets to a show as a birthday present for their father, all in an attempt to relive what was once a family tradition.

But after a flood of sexual abuse allegations against Cosby in recent weeks, Dragasevich and her family have decided not to attend the performance, joining a growing number who are speaking out against his three scheduled appearances in Canada.

“Given the fact that he’s played Mr. Jell-O Pudding and Dr. Huxtable, I think we kind of find it harder to believe,” said the 59-year-old Aurora, Ont., resident. “But we hold him accountable for his behaviour and his behaviour is disgusting.”

Cosby’s image has been pummelled in recent weeks by a flurry of allegations that he drugged women and sexually assaulted them, with some accusations dating back to the 1970s.

He has never been criminally charged in connection with the accusations, and his lawyer has denied many of them. Cosby also settled a lawsuit in 2005 with a Pennsylvania woman who said he drugged and fondled her.

The 77-year-old, who is in the midst of a stand-up concert tour, has had to deal with the cancellation or postponement of at least 10 of his shows as the scandal continues to swirl, but his appearances in three Ontario cities seem set to go ahead, despite local opposition.

Cosby is set to perform in Kitchener on Jan. 7, London on Jan. 8 and he’ll appear in Hamilton on Jan 9.

He has had little to say publicly about his scandal, although he did tell a Florida newspaper last month that “a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos.” His wife has also stepped forward, calling Cosby kind, generous and a wonderful husband and father.

The Ontario venues hosting Cosby have said his shows are being handled entirely by an external agent, which has indicated the events are still going ahead.

The Chicago-based Innovation Arts and Entertainment said Cosby’s representatives had informed them the comedian “has every intent to perform these events.”

“While we understand and empathize this is a difficult time, we hope it is understood that both the venues and IAE are legally obligated to proceed as it applies to our commitments,” it said in a statement. “We would face crippling legal obstacles for violation.”

The Ontario venues have also emphasized their contractual obligations to allow the shows to continue.

One venue — Kitchener’s Centre In The Square, where the first show is set to take place — addressed residents’ anger directly.

“While we may personally share concerns raised by the community, if The Centre forces a cancellation of this rental show it isn’t simply a situation of giving back the rent,” it said in a blog post, noting that it would also need to pay any “guarantee fee” to Cosby, compensate the promoter for box office losses and show expenses, and refund patrons.

After noting the venue’s stance, a handful of Kitchener residents came up with a way to demonstrate their opposition by holding an alternative event, which will run at the same time as Cosby’s show, with proceeds going to two women’s crisis support centres in the region.

“Too often we fail survivors of sexual assault, we shame them, we blame them, we doubt their experiences and so it’s in moments like this that we have an opportunity to stand in support of survivors in our community,” said Sara Casselman, a spokeswoman for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, which will be benefiting from the event.

The event — called Voices Carry — was triggered by a local broadcaster musing on Twitter about whether an alternative fundraiser could be pulled together. Those who’ve purchased tickets to Cosby’s show can gain free admission.

Meanwhile, in London, Ont., where Cosby is to perform a day later, a women’s centre is organizing a protest against the comedian.

“We’re appalled that any Canadian city would host Bill Cosby,” said Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre. “Allowing Bill Cosby to perform in London is completely contradictory to the support this community has continued to give to women abused by men.”

The centre has joined forces with two local union groups and has also been receiving phone calls and emails from residents interested in its demonstration, which it hopes will send a message to Cosby.

“Bill Cosby isn’t a joke to us, he’s not funny. We’re taking it very seriously and I think the promoter should start taking this city and its concerns seriously.”

Similar sentiments are being aired in Hamilton, where another protest is planned to coincide with Cosby’s Jan. 9 performance in the city.

“We are going to have a peaceful gathering, one to just show support for the women,” said Nicky Bomberry, of the area’s Women Abuse Working Group.

“It’s not going to be a bashing Bill Cosby protest, it’s really about getting the message across about changing the attitude to rape culture and sexual assault.”

Cosby’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

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