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Advocates for survivors of sexual violence push for accountability on failed Regina tourism campaign

An image taken at a protest against the city's tourism rebrand to Experience Regina. (CBC - image credit)
An image taken at a protest against the city's tourism rebrand to Experience Regina. (CBC - image credit)

Organizations that advocate for survivors of sexual violence are urging officials in Regina to do more after the city's attempt to rebrand its tourism agency ended up re-traumatizing people.

"There should be action made, this shouldn't just be brushed under the table," said Kerrie Isaac, executive director of Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS).

The provincial non-profit works with front-line workers and governments to provide education on sexual violence and support people affected. This week, SASS and its member agencies penned a letter to Regina's mayor and city councillors calling for a public town hall.

"SASS is deeply concerned that a government body, using public funds, has endorsed a tourism marketing campaign that is built on disrespectful and harmful language, perpetuating a culture of harassment and abuse against women," read the letter.

The city's tourism hub rebranded from Tourism Regina to Experience Regina in March, but the switch wasn't just a logo and name change. The rebrand featured slogans like "show us your Regina" and "the city that rhymes with fun."

The organization in charge of tourism promotion in the city, Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL), scrapped the rebrand after widespread backlash and international scrutiny. It also initiated a third-party review to examine all aspects of the development of the Experience Regina brand and its launch.

Mayor rejects push for public town hall 

Isaac said it's disappointing that more hasn't been done in response to the failed campaign. She said people shouldn't have to wait for the review before issues are addressed.

SASS and its member agencies say a public town hall would increase transparency and let the decision-makers hear directly from people harmed by the marketing campaign.

When asked about the request for a town hall, Mayor Sandra Masters would not commit.

"I think that we'll be waiting for the review and then we'll go forward from there," she said while speaking to radio host Stefani Langenegger on CBC's The Morning Edition.

Masters said the reviewer should wrap-up interviews within a week, and the report into the failed rebrand is expected within the next "number of weeks."

The mayor said the review will help inform policy changes and hinted at possible collaborations with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre in the future. The centre is not affiliated with SASS.

Issac said people need to know what steps are being taken now to make sure this doesn't happen again. She wants officials to prioritize creating a safe space for people to talk about the negative effects of the failed campaign.

Member agencies have reported to SASS that people who have experienced sexual harassment or violence were troubled by the campaign and the comments associated with it.

"It re-traumatizes," Isaac said. "When something comes out in the media, whether it's a case or something like this … our frontline agencies get an increase in calls."

Sask. interpersonal violence rates double national average

Isaac said SASS is open to providing support, education and recommendations to Regina's decision-makers.

She said these discussions could not be more timely, as next week is Sexual Violence Awareness Week in the province.

The push for action by SASS is supported by Envision Counselling & Support Centre Inc., Hope Restored, Heart-Song Complex Trauma Program, PARTNERS Family Services, Piwapan Women's Centre, Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit, Sexual Assault Centre, Saskatoon Sexual Health, Southwest Crisis Services and West Central Crisis & Family Support Centre.

They wrote that "rather than making the City of Regina stand out, this branding has shone a light on a troubling reality" that Saskatchewan has the highest rates of interpersonal violence among Canadian provinces — double the national average.