Quebec media stars face sex abuse allegations
Head of Just for Laughs quits after women come forward; popular TV host suspended
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.
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.