thumb-2023-08-05-actra-aftra This article is more than 10 months old

Big Star Hollywood Actors Are Scabbing in Canada While Canadian Actors Remain Locked Out

‘We don't cross picket lines. I think it's part of Canadian culture too. You don’t cross picket lines’

Canadian commercial actors say American actors are crossing the border and the picket line in the middle of a major US entertainment industry strike and filling the jobs of Canadian actors who have been locked out for over a year.

Thousands of unionized commercial actors in Canada have been locked out since April 2022 while The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has been negotiating with commercial agencies to try and get a fair deal.

Now, as a result of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA actors and WGA writers strikes that have shut down TV and film productions in the United States, some Hollywood actors have travelled north of the border in search of non-union commercial work in Canada.

“Over the last year there’s been a lot of American commercials shooting up in Canada doing everything non union because they can walk around it,” one ACTRA member who requested to be anonymous told PressProgress.

The ACTRA member, who has previously worked in commercials, says they were disappointed to learn through tabloid reports that big stars like Drew Barrymore were reportedly shooting a commercial in Canada last month while SAG-AFTRA remains on strike.

“I personally took a little bit of offense to it, because I’m like, how dare you in the middle of the strike, and then I did some digging, and I realized they don’t know.”

“Our two unions are clearly not communicating because a lot of the American SAG actors had no idea that ACTRA has been locked out for over a year now, over a year and a half. They have no clue.”

Screen Actors Guild headquarters in Los Angeles, California (Luke LeBrun, PressProgress)

ACTRA National President Eleanor Noble said ACTRA hopes American actors will demonstrate solidarity moving forward.

“ACTRA is aware that a non-signatory agency to ACTRA’s National Commercial Agreement shot a commercial involving Drew Barrymore in Toronto,” Noble said in a statement to PressProgress.

“ACTRA members would prefer SAG-AFTRA members decline non-union commercial work in Canada in solidarity with ACTRA performers who have been locked out 16 months now by the Institute of Canadian Agencies.”

The ACTRA member added that while SAG-AFTRA is not striking for commercials, shooting in Canada is still crossing the picket line.

“Americans come up to Canada all the time and shoot, and from my understanding a lot of them are coming up without even having proper working visas, but if we went out to the states and did the same thing, we’d be banned for life,” the actor said.

“They’re shooting under their SAG agreements and doing whatever they want. And there’s so much commercial work.”

They said it would be just as wrong for Canadian actors to cross a picket line by going to Hollywood to film movies and TV during the strike.

“The SAG strike, the secondary WGA strike has drastically affected the work availability in Canada, because we are Hollywood north,” they said.

“We don’t cross picket lines. I think it’s part of Canadian culture too. You don’t cross picket lines.”

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While the SAG-AFTRA strike has been widely discussed since it first started, the ACTRA member said they feel there isn’t the same level of widespread support for Canadian commercial actors in their ongoing struggle.

“We just want the opportunity to have equal access to work and good work and safe work. And you know, if companies that were productions are making money on our likeness, or our voices, that we still get to retain some of that,” they said.

“These barriers are not only causing issues financially for people in order to feed themselves, feed their kids, put food on the table or a roof over their heads, but it also stifles and limits our ability to continue to grow in our industry.”

They say that while the issue of American actors doing commercials in Canada needs to be addressed, both groups’ struggles can be seen as interrelated.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, if we all come together, we will be able to elevate our industry.”


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Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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