Canadian actor Nicholas Campbell, known for his role as Gordon Cooper on CBC's Coroner, will not return to the show's production until an investigation can be conducted, after Campbell was heard using racist slurs on the set of a separate film project, CBC News has learned.
Andre Mike, a Black grip technician from Pickering, Ont., says the actor used the N-word while working on the film Impasse in Orangeville, Ont., northwest of Toronto.
Campbell, also known for his roles in Da Vinci's Inquest and films like Cinderella Man and Naked Lunch, said the word twice on Oct. 17, according to Mike.
In a statement to CBC News, Campbell says he would like to apologize personally to Mike and anyone else on set whom he has offended.
"That word should never be spoken aloud, certainly not by the likes of me, a white guy who is old enough to know better. It doesn't matter the context in which it was said," he said.
"It doesn't matter that I was retelling a story, or that I was actually quoting someone else's usage of that word. That horrible and divisive word should never come out of my mouth. And it never will again."
'What was that?'
In his statement, Campbell says he did not call Mike or any other member of the production the offensive slur.
Mike remembers it differently.
He says it was a cold, rainy day, and as he was clearing stones for Campbell's path, he heard the actor say, "You winter N-words are used to this kind of weather."
Mike says the statement caused the director of photography to ask, "What was that?"
Then Mike says he heard Campbell say, "Well, you know, you northern N-words are used to it."
Mike says he froze, feeling emotionally paralyzed. "Two seconds later, we just continued rolling," he said.
Mike told CBC News the slurs were directed toward him.
"There was myself and another Black man right there, behind him," he said, referring to another crew member. "He wouldn't be saying it to anyone else."
CBC News spoke with three crew members who said they witnessed Campbell using the N-word on set.
Mike says he was shocked by what had occurred.
"It's degrading, embarrassing. We're not in the Jim Crow era anymore. We've passed that, it's 2021. We're fighting for such diversity, inclusion and acceptance."
Creating safer workplaces
Kadon Douglas, executive director of BIPOC TV & FILM, says the non-profit advocacy organization has offered support to Mike and his mother as they navigate the aftermath of the incident.
"Racism is violent. Whether it manifests itself through words, actions, or policies. It's extremely violent, psychologically harmful, and does not make for a safe working environment," Douglas said.
"Andre and other racialized people deserve to work in spaces that do not allow for racism and discrimination to fester and to be overlooked. What happened on the Impasse set was not an isolated incident. There are myriad stories from BIPOC who've been harassed, dehumanized and made to feel unsafe in the workplace."
Douglas says the industry as a whole needs further anti-racism policies and training. "With specific focus on mediation, conflict resolution and bystander training so that when incidents like this take place, no more harm is done to BIPOC crew."
That day on set, Mike says, the producer and director of photography — Sean and Matt Kohnen, respectively — approached him and apologized, and said he shouldn't be hearing such things on set.
According to Mike and other witnesses, Campbell didn't address what happened and no announcement was made to the crew that day.
Sean Kohnen, the American producer of Impasse, says it is his first Canadian film. He said two Black crew members were given the option to leave the production with full pay and opted to leave. CBC News has confirmed one of them was Mike.
Kohnen also said signs were posted and a statement regarding language and mutual respect was added to the daily call sheet. Campbell remains part of the production.
After being contacted about what happened on the Impasse set, CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson shared the following statement:
"Earlier this week, CBC was made aware of some deeply disturbing allegations regarding racist language used by actor Nicholas Campbell on the set of a feature film.
Given the serious nature of these allegations and until an investigation can be conducted, Coroner 4 Productions Inc. has made the decision Mr. Campbell will not be returning to the Coroner set, which is currently in production. CBC fully supports this decision."
In his statement, Campbell also apologized to the CBC and the show Coroner, saying he needs to change his ways.
Apology not accepted
After reading Campbell's statement, Mike said Campbell should have been terminated, as the use of the slur in question was heard not once but twice.
"Mr. Campbell should know this is not acceptable," he said, "and so this apology, which is on its face insincere, is rejected."
But Mike says he isn't letting what happened and how it was handled discourage him.
"A lot of great creative people … have encouraged me to get here to get to this point. Black people have come too far to let these things stop them from pursuing their dreams."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.