Quebec judge authorizes class-action lawsuit against Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon

A Quebec Superior Court justice has given the green light to a class action against Gilbert Rozon, the Just for Laughs founder accused by about 20 women of sexual assaulted and harassment.

About 20 women calling themselves Les Courageuses say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by Rozon

Women calling themselves Les Courageuses, or the courageous ones, say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec Superior Court justice has given the green light to a class action against Gilbert Rozon.

About 20 women calling themselves Les Courageuses, or the courageous ones, say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by the Just for Laughs founder.

In the decision, Justice Donald Bisson acknowledged that class-action lawsuits have proven to be an effective tool in sexual assault cases, because they have allowed hundreds of victims access to justice.

"If the plaintiff wasn't authorized to file the present class action, it is highly likely that a number of victims would be deprived of their ability to exercise their rights."

The plaintiff representing the group in the case is actress Patricia Tuslane. The identity of the other alleged victims who are part of the group is unknown. 

In its original filing last fall, the group said it believed that 20 victims was likely "the tip of the iceberg" and that more victims may join the class action later.

Plaintiff alleges violent assault

Tuslane alleged in court documents that Rozon sexually assaulted her in Montreal in 1994, after giving her a lift home.

Tuslane said Rozon forced his way into her apartment, pushed her against the wall, ripped off her dress and raped her.

She said she was traumatized by the alleged attack, and that her personal and professional life suffered greatly in the years that followed.

Tuslane said it wasn't until the flurry of the #MeToo movement last fall that she found the courage to come forward and launch a complaint against Rozon.

She told Radio-Canada Tuesday that she was thrilled when her lawyer called to tell her the class action could proceed.

"I was almost on the verge of tears. I think it's the culmination of a long fight. Really it's a first round. The rest must follow," Tuslane said.

Rozon's 'charm' defence

Rozon has consistently denied the allegations, and his lawyers argued the class action shouldn't proceed.

Among the arguments Rozon's lawyers  put forth was "the fact of being charming while using his power was not in itself a fault."

They also argued and that it was necessary to "question the consent of the alleged victims, which is an element which happens in their heads and for which Rozon is not responsible."

The judge rejected Rozon's arguments, calling them a "crude and distorted trivialization" of the allegations.

Rozon also argued that Tuslane offered no specific material evidence to back up her allegations.

The judge rejected that as well, saying it was unrealistic to expect physical proof of an assault more than 20 years after it's alleged to have happened.

In its application to file the legal action, the group had said it is seeking "just compensation" for the victims and "truly punitive damages" against Rozon to emphasize "the intensity with which our society denounces such behaviour."

They are seeking up to $400,000 in moral damages for each individual complainant, as well as a total of $10 million for the group in punitive damages.

The group hopes to encourage more alleged victims of sexual assault to come forward and file a complaint.

Earlier this month, Radio-Canada reported that police had completed their investigation into Rozon and handed the file over to Quebec's public prosecution service.

It's now up to the prosecutor's office to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

Rozon has denied wrongdoing, but resigned from Just for Laughs last October saying he was doing so "out of respect for the employees and families who work for these organizations and all our partners."

The company was put up for sale and acquired in March by Canadian comedian Howie Mandel and ICM Partners, a Los Angeles-based talent and literary agency.​