A Prince Albert artist trying to sell her wares at a recent comic book convention became the focus of online insults and sexually violent comments after she lodged a complaint about the organizer.
Skylar Urbaniak had opened a PayPal claim to recoup the $170 she paid for a vendor’s table at this year’s Saskatoon Blitz Convention at Prairieland Park on June 13 and 14. The PayPal claim she filed stemmed from the unexpected changes to where her booth was located during the two-day event.
Once the organizers got wind of the PayPal claim, and her online criticism of the organization of the event, they responded – but not to her directly. They posted a series of graphic remarks on a closed Facebook group’s page meant for Saskatoon Blitz organizers, staff and volunteers.
A volunteer who was upset about the comments directed at Urbaniak showed her the messages and told her she wanted her to see them. Urbaniak said the woman wanted her to post them and provided her with the images of the posts.
Among the comments was the use of a phrase increasingly hurled at female on-air reporters, known as ‘FHRITP’. There were other explicit comments in posts, including one from the event’s organizer.
“I feel very uncomfortable about them,” Urbaniak said via telephone on Tuesday. “They were horrible things that should not have been said in any setting or situation. They were extremely unprofessional and hurtful to everyone who’s seen them and to me.”
Urbaniak took the screen captures and incorporated them into her Tumblr blog post.
“It’s very frustrating that that’s coming from … organizers of the event,” she said. Urbaniak was also quite upset that they didn’t stop at insults directed at her, they even dragged her pet into it.
The incidents and the organizers’ response all stemmed from the online complaint and the PayPal claim she filed after she was forced to leave the convention on its second day.
Urbaniak was taking part in her third Saskatoon Blitz Convention. She had a good experience her first time around in 2013, in a smaller, cozier venue. Last year, she was only at the convention for one day, but remembers that the event’s organization was an issue.
This year’s convention didn’t go as expected from the second she entered the convention hall.
Ordinarily, artists are given a vendor map for the show, which they can post online to show customers where to find them. But this year’s map didn’t arrive until two days before the show’s start, she said.
She said she was promised one particular table in advance, but then when she arrived on Saturday, she was given another table entirely.
Urbaniak also brought her concerns about how the tables were set up to the convention staff. She described the setting at the Saskatoon Blitz as “classroom style”, where vendors were facing the backs of those in front of them. The preferred set up is to have vendors placed back to back, with no vendor’s back exposed to the public.
Vendors were also advised to pack up their items overnight, since there was nowhere onsite for them, she said. So she did.
When she arrived on Sunday to set up her table, another artist was in her spot. She went to speak with a member of the convention’s staff, who brought out tables and pushed them together.
The third move was enough. Urbaniak told the convention staff member that she had just broken the contract.
In the ensuing moments, staff brought in security. But Urbaniak said there was a two-hour wait for security to arrive. When security did come to lead herself and her boyfriend away, she said the guards told her that they were starting fights and harassing other artists and vendors.
“We weren’t allowed to talk to anybody,” she said.
Her friend, Katrina Beattie, who spoke via telephone from Alberta, was also taking part in her third Saskatoon Blitz. She said when organizers had arrived at the scene to talk to Urbaniak, they “rudely” told onlookers to “get the hell away.”
She described the tone of those dealing with Urbaniak as “aggressive” and “hostile” and said they wouldn’t work with her friend.
Urbaniak hasn’t made a decision yet when it comes to legal action, right now she said she is figuring out what to do. But she felt the people supporting the conventions needed to see the posts.
But it’s been a frustrating week for Urbaniak. She said she hasn’t done anything but reply to emails and respond to comments all stemming from the incident that sparked the online insults.
Right now it’s taking up all of her time, she said. “It’s embarrassing … it’s a difficult situation.”
But she said the comments are sexual harassment and they have affected her and her business. As well, she said the situation has been very exhausting.
It’s important for her to come forward about the whole incident because they involve the organizers of the event, Urbaniak said.
“These are the people who put on the show, that market it to families as a safe environment, and they’re saying these sexual jokes and these rape jokes and these horrible things that do not promote a safe environment for families and attendees.”
In the days following the event, her blog post containing the screen captures has been shared repeatedly. The organizers have been subject to a degree of backlash, and have apologized for the online comments.
We apologize for the lack of professionalism in our groups private message. see http://t.co/4B9XnayVS7 Fb temporarily disabled.
— Saskatoon Blitz (@SaskBlitz) June 17, 2015
Other attempts to explain the actions of those involved in the graphic sexual posts had been posted on the Saskatoon Blitz website and the Facebook page, but both are now offline.
When paNOW attempted to contact the organizer, Laura Petrishen-Ha directly via email, an automated response states that “In light of recent events, family changes and new personal goals [,] I will not be returning to the position of Saskatoon Blitz Chair.”
She did not return or respond to telephone calls or messages from paNOW requesting comment.
So far, one of the other commenters said he has apologized directly to Urbaniak. In an email to paNOW sent on Tuesday evening, he wrote that Urbaniak acknowledged his apology and said she was “appreciative of me coming forward.”
“I no longer have any connections with Blitz, I have been informed that she was refunded but other than that I can't speak for any of the other volunteers and I am happy to say that I am moving forward with my life away from the convention and have learned a lot about how to properly conduct myself online.”
Urbaniak herself just wants to move on from this. But this experience won’t get in the way of her taking part in other conventions this year.
“This is what I do professionally, this is what I do full time. I have 11 conventions to attend this year and they’re all really great conventions that I love going to, I’ve been going to [them] since I was 16. And it really is just something that’s going to pass and I hope that people see and remember what the Saskatoon Blitz did and said.”
On Twitter: @thiajames
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