Montreal Gazette

At 91, an icon convicted of sexual assault

What are we to make of the case against Edgar Fruitier?


Last week, a frail 91-year-old man received a six-month jail sentence for having fondled a teenager on three occasions more than 45 years ago.

The culprit, Edgar Fruitier, is (or was) part of the pantheon of Quebec stars — an actor with more than 200 roles to his résumé, on television, in movies and on stage. During the 1950s and '60s, his character Loup- Garou was a favourite with francophon­e children glued to their TV screen for La Boîte à Surprise on Radio-canada. Later he played a pirate, Le Pirate Maboule. After school, we all watched that show with glee.

A self-taught obsessive collector of classical recordings — Fruitier owns some 60,000 classical albums and CDS — he often gave talks and interviews about his passion. But what most people will remember is the case that sent him to prison at the end of his otherwise glorious life.

Prison is what he deserved, but it doesn't make it morally right.

I was watching him on television, walking down the courthouse corridor with an aide. He looked confused, to say the least. I wondered whether he knew what was going on. Did he understand that he was going to prison? Did he remember his crime? I mean, what would be the point of sending a cognitivel­y impaired old man to jail?

I don't know the state of his mind, but initially I was shocked by a prison sentence for someone his age. I even looked for a reason to feel sorry for him. Why not keep him under lock and key at home instead? Simple: The law does not allow a sentence at home for this type of crime.

Looking at the case from the victim's point of view, my heart hardened. Jean-rené Tétreault lived with PTSD for most of his life. He married, had children, but was unable to hold them in his arms. It's a gut-wrenching story. A life damaged.

At least Tétreault is satisfied with the verdict and the sentence.

And it's all that matters. Ten years or 45 years make no difference when a child has had body and soul violated by a selfish man. As a star, Fruitier probably thought he would get away with it. Ego-driven sexual misconduct is too frequent in show business.

Because the crime took place in 1974, he was judged under the old criminal rules. There was no minimum sentence in those days. And the crime was called “indecent assault.” Today, he might get more than the six month sentence he is appealing.

The Supreme Court's 2020 Friesen decision changed how sexual crimes on children are judged. The court felt that sentences were too light — that disproport­ionately lenient sentences had been applied for too long in cases involving children.

That being said, Fruitier will not spend six months in prison. Start by deducting onethird of the sentence, the norm in Canada. It's also highly possible the prison might not be able to keep him because of the care needs of a 91-year-old man. We might joke about Club Fed, but prisons are not equipped to take care of someone so frail. It's called a “humanitari­an exception.”

In any case, he's been freed pending his appeal.

Understand­ing the language of sexual aggression has been more difficult since 1983, when the federal government decided to modernize the law. Modern it might be, but it's also confusing. Definition of sexual assault has gone Small-medium-large. Rape is not called rape anymore but “aggravated sexual assault” when the victim is wounded. Down one notch is sexual assault with a weapon or threatened violence, and last is “basic sexual assault” (sexual touching or sexual intercours­e without consent).

Lawyers and judges understand the complexiti­es of the law, but the average Canadian probably does not. I'm not sure I do. There's too much room for interpreta­tion.

French philosophe­r Albert Camus wrote: “To name things badly adds to the suffering of the world.”


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