Michael Coleman refuted allegations of sexual harassment and impropriety today in a press conference held in the office of a Vancouver public relations firm.
Flanked by his wife Michelle and PR team, Coleman – an actor on ABC’s Once Upon a Time – addressed the crowd, which included invited media, several supporters, and 10 protesters who stood silently at the back of the room holding yellow signs bearing the words “We believe the women.”
“I have seen my name in headlines with words like ‘sexual misconduct’ and ‘sexual allegations’ and if you were to ask anybody what they are, the answer would be, ‘I’m not sure, I don’t know what they are,’” Coleman said.
“A young woman who was a friend of mine at one point stood up at a town hall and made allegations that she alleged happened in 2009. Any allegations against me are at best a wrong interpretation of events.”
Coleman said that the allegations had come to his attention via an investigation conducted by SchoolCreative Institute of the Arts. A co-owner of the Vancouver acting school, he said he took a leave of absence as artistic director during the investigation and said he is selling his shares because of an ownership dispute.
Coleman addressed four separate allegations, which he said date back to 2009, which is before he co-founded SchoolCreative. The allegations, he said, include one involving inappropriate comments he is alleged to have made to a fan on Twitter, one involving a student he was coaching who alleges that he asked her to rehearse in her bikini, one who alleges he tried to kiss her during private coaching, and one he alleges ultimately retracted her statement.
Coleman vehemently denied the allegations, as he had done previously in written statements. He said that he has never engaged in any inappropriate behaviour with students or instructors at his school, or with fans at conventions, and noted that there have been no formal investigations or civil or criminal charges related to the allegations.
Because of the allegations, he said, “I am at the cusp of losing my career, my business, and potentially my home.”
When asked why he was holding the press conference, Coleman said, “We went from one extreme of ‘don’t believe the women,’ and now we’ve gone to the other end of, ‘don’t believe the men.’ We’re in this win-lose mindset where there’s no possibility of what if we believe all the women, what if we believe all the men, and what if we investigated and found what the actual evidence and truth was? To me that’s the solution. I’m not saying don’t believe the women. I’m saying don’t assume that to believe the women means don’t believe the men.”
Coleman was asked if he had ever invited his students to participate in a promotional video for a sex club. Coleman replied that “there was a nightclub that students did get an opportunity to participate in. It was a nightclub that friends of mine were opening and they were creating an orientation video for the nightclub, and some of them received paid work in the promotional video.”
When asked for the name of the club, Coleman replied that it was Club Eden in New Westminster. A reporter said that Club Eden is a sex club – to which Coleman said that he was not aware of that; he said he was under the impression that it was a nightclub, and that he “would never send students to any club, ever.”
Coleman also said that he has consulted a Vancouver defamation lawyer and is considering legal action against individuals who have defamed him on social media. “I’m hoping to put this all behind me so I can resume my career,” he said.
Protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside of the office building before the press conference began and conducted interviews with print and broadcast media. Actress and teacher Lisa Ovies – who was one of five women to discuss industry-wide sexual harassment and abuse in a Westender cover story last October – told the Courier that she was present because she wanted “women who are survivors to know that we’re here for them if they’re able to come forward. We’re just humans supporting women and survivors.”
The same protesters conducted an impromptu press conference following Coleman’s presser.
Veteran actress Joyce Robbins told reporters that people who experience harassment generally don’t speak out because of fear. “There’s always a fear that if you speak up, you will never find employment, and I think that culture remained so ingrained and impervious for women and men to come forward and express themselves, and this culture continues. It has to stop. We all have voices. Yes, we’re performers, but we also have our truths, and we know what is inappropriate and we know what is not inappropriate.”
This is an updated version of a story that was posted earlier today. Sabrina Furminger is editor-in-chief of YVRScreenScene.com and is a regular contributor to the Vancouver Courier.