Que­bec me­dia stars face sex abuse al­le­ga­tions

Head of Just for Laughs quits af­ter women come for­ward; pop­u­lar TV host sus­pended

Toronto Star - - NEWS - AL­LAN WOODS QUE­BEC BUREAU

MON­TREAL— Gil­bert Ro­zon, the im­pre­sario be­hind Mon­treal’s world­fa­mous Just for Laughs Fes­ti­val, has quit the en­ter­tain­ment com­pany over al­le­ga­tions of abuse. He made the an­nounce­ment on his Face­book page Wed­nes­day evening, adding that he was also re­sign­ing as a com­mis­sioner of Mon­treal’s 375th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions and as vi­cepres­i­dent of the Mon­treal Cham­ber of Com­merce.

“I am re­sign­ing out of re­spect for the em­ploy­ees and the fam­i­lies that work for th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions as well as all our part­ners. I cer­tainly don’t want to over­shadow their ac­tiv­i­ties,” Ro­zon wrote in what he ti­tled an of­fi­cial dec­la­ra­tion.

“Shaken by the al­le­ga­tions against me, I want to ded­i­cate all my time to re­view the mat­ter. To all those who I may have of­fended in my life, I’m sin­cerely sorry.”

Que­bec news­pa­per Le Devoir re­ported in­ter­view­ing nine women about al­leged ha­rass­ment, abuse and sex­ual as­sault at Ro­zon’s hands over the past three decades.

One woman al­leged that in June 2016, she awoke fol­low­ing an evening of drink­ing to find Ro­zon hav­ing sex with her against her will, some­thing that Ro­zon him­self later dis­puted in an email ex­change.

“I froze, I pushed him away, slammed the door and went into another room,” said Geneviève Al­lard. Later, Ro­zon al­legedly re­marked that both of them had cheated on their part­ners.

Al­lard filed a for­mal com­plaint with the po­lice in De­cem­ber, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Among the other al­leged vic­tims was a well-known ac­tress, Salomé Corbo, who said she was 14 years old in 1990 when an in­tox­i­cated Ro­zon slipped his hands into her un­der­wear and dig­i­tally pen­e­trated her dur­ing a party.

The TVA net­work re­ported that Mon­treal po­lice had launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a com­plaint of sex­ual as­sault that al­legedly oc­curred in Paris in 1994. The woman was re­port­edly among a group of Ro­zon’s al­leged vic­tims who came to­gether Tuesday in Mon­treal to dis­cuss their or­deals.

The net­work also re­ported that another young woman, aged 20 when she worked for the Just for Laughs fes­ti­val in 2010, al­legedly had her back­side slapped by Ro­zon as a means of con­grat­u­la­tions, and was told on another oc­ca­sion: “Your breasts look great in that dress.”

Another woman, Mar­lène Bolduc, wrote on Twit­ter Wed­nes­day that she worked for Ro­zon’s fes­ti­val in the sum­mer of 2016 as a rick­shaw driver and ended up pulling Ro­zon home one night, along with a group of his friends. Ro­zon al­legedly com­mented dur­ing the ride on her “beau­ti­ful arched back” and re­marked: “Those thighs have got to be pretty firm.” She said he also used his scarf to whip her as if he were rid­ing a horse-drawn car­riage.

Mon­treal Mayor De­nis Coderre said in a state­ment that he was dis­ap­pointed to learn of the “se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct.”

“I to­tally sup­port all the men and women who de­cide to ex­press them­selves con­cern­ing the abuse they have suf­fered. We have to pro­tect the vic­tims,” he said.

Ro­zon pleaded guilty in1998 to fondling a 19-year-old woman. He said the in­ci­dent pushed him into ther­apy and re­flec­tion on the trans­gres­sions so of­ten com­mit­ted by pow­er­ful peo­ple.

“I looked at politi­cians here and abroad, like Bill Clin­ton, and I asked my­self, ‘Does power go with the obli­ga­tion to se­duce and con­quer?’ ” he told an in­ter­viewer in 2011.

Ro­zon re­ceived a $1,100 fine and one year of pro­ba­tion, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports. In 1999, he was granted an un­con­di­tional dis­charge af­ter a judge ruled that hav­ing a crim­i­nal record for sex­ual as­sault might pre­vent Ro­zon from trav­el­ling in­ter­na­tion­ally, af­fect his busi­ness and ham­per Mon­treal’s econ­omy, the CBC re­ported at the time.

Ro­zon had also been charged with un­law­ful con­fine­ment in­volv­ing a 31year-old woman, but the charge was with­drawn by po­lice due to lack of ev­i­dence.

AQue­bec ac­tor, Guil­laume Wag­ner, brought the con­cerns sur­round­ing Ro­zon to light Wed­nes­day when he wrote on Face­book: “I won’t work for Just for Laugh so long as an ag­gres­sor is the boss.”

Wag­ner added that he was aware of Ro­zon’s past brush with the law and thought he had re­formed.

“Then I heard sto­ries. And then oth­ers. And re­cent ones. It’s start­ing to come out. It will con­tinue to come out,” he wrote. “When men break lives, the least we can do is to break the si­lence.”

Ro­zon’s res­ig­na­tion was the sec­ond bomb­shell to shake Que­bec’s en­ter­tain­ment world Wed­nes­day.

Ear­lier in the day, tele­vi­sion host and pro­ducer Eric Sal­vail was al­leged to have en­gaged in in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual be­hav­iour, which re­sulted in the talk show and ra­dio show he hosts be­ing sus­pended.

Mon­treal’s La Presse news­pa­per re­ported it had col­lected the tes­ti­mony of 11 peo­ple Sal­vail is al­leged to have sex­u­ally ha­rassed, im­prop­erly touched or ex­posed him­self to.

One of Sal­vail’s al­leged vic­tims, Marco Ber­ar­dini, said in an in­ter­view that he has been in­un­dated with mes­sages of sup­port and in­quiries from oth­ers who have had en­coun­ters with the host and pro­ducer since he came for­ward with the story of his al­leged abuse, which dates to 2003.

“There’s no sat­is­fac­tion in this,” said Ber­ar­dini, a Mon­treal-born stylist and makeup artist, by phone from Los An­ge­les. “I wish that there was and maybe there will be, but for now it’s just sad.”

One per­son who spoke to La Presse on con­di­tion of anonymity said: “In a meet­ing he stood up, he took out his pe­nis and he asked what I would do to ex­cite him.”

The Star has not been able to in­de­pen­dently ver­ify any of the al­leged claims.

Sal­vail’s lawyer, Jac­ques Jean­sonne, re­fused to com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions, shortly be­fore Sal­vail him­self ad­dressed the mat­ter on his Face­book page Wed­nes­day.

“I was shaken by what was pub­lished this morn­ing. I’m ap­proach­ing this sit­u­a­tion with an enor­mous amount of em­pa­thy for those who I may have made to feel un­com­fort­able or hurt. I never meant to bother any­one,” he wrote.

DE­NIS BEAUMONT/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Gil­bert Ro­zon stepped down as pres­i­dent of Mon­treal’s Just for Laughs fes­ti­val on Wed­nes­day “out of re­spect for the em­ploy­ees.”

TV and ra­dio shows hosted by Eric Sal­vail were sus­pended af­ter sev­eral al­le­ga­tions emerged.

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