Just For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon charged with sex-related crimes

Gilbert Rozon, the founder of Montreal's Just For Laughs festival, has been charged with sex-related crimes against a single victim in 1979 after a lengthy investigation into multiple allegations made by more than a dozen women.

Rozon stepped down in October 2017 and faces separate $10M class action lawsuit

Gilbert Rozon is the founder of Just for Laughs. (Radio-Canada)

Gilbert Rozon, the founder of Montreal's Just For Laughs festival, has been charged with sex-related crimes against a single victim in 1979 after a lengthy investigation into multiple allegations made by more than a dozen women.

Rozon, 64, is facing one count of indecent assault and one count of rape, charges that were part of the Criminal Code when the alleged events occurred, Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions (DPCP) said Wednesday.

The prosecution is not pursuing allegations against Rozon made by 13 other complainants.

In a statement, the DPCP said it had informed the women that it had decided not to pursue charges in those cases and that protecting victims of sexual assault was at the "heart of its mission." 

The DPCP said the burden of proof is "very demanding," as the prosecution must demonstrate guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" in court.

A group of women — calling themselves Les Courageuses — lodged complaints against Rozon more than a year ago. Those complaints range from sexual harassment to sexual assault, which allegedly took place over several decades.

Investigations into the complaints were completed in May. Each allegation, the DPCP says, was analyzed with "rigour and impartiality."

Provincial Justice Minister Sonia LeBel told reporters women should not be discouraged by the DPCP's decision not to pursue most of the allegations in court.

"I can tell you that the worst thing is silence," she said.

"Despite everything, I would encourage women to continue calling people out. I'll say again, this isn't a value judgment on their stories, it's a very precise decision in a very precise context, meaning in the ability to lay criminal charges."

Provincial Justice Minister Sonia Lebel encourages women to continue speaking out. (Radio-Canada)

LeBel, a former Crown prosecutor, said she does not consider it necessary to reduce the burden of proof in cases of sexual assault. Several cases go to trial daily in the province, she said, and many end in conviction.

The justice system works, she said, but "there is always room for improvement."

No details of allegations revealed

Rozon is expected to appear in court on Jan. 22, said DPCP spokesperson Jean-Pascal Boucher.

 A total of 30 complaints of a sexual nature were filed against Rozon, but some could not be handled by Montreal police because the alleged incident took place in Paris. 

The DPCP is not revealing any details of the complaints that were lodged against Rozon.

Among those whose allegations will not be heard is Martine Roy, Rozon's former sister in law.

She was informed this week that her accusations would not be heard in court due to a lack of evidence, she told Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin Wednesday.

She lamented the legal system's high demand for proof.

"It takes so much," she said. "What evidence do they need? For it to be filmed?"

Class-action lawsuit to push forward

On Wednesday afternoon, Rozon said in a statement that he would continue to defend himself in court, and that he would not comment further until that time. 

Rozon stepped down from his position as president of Just for Laughs in October 2017. 

He is also the subject of a lawsuit.

The Superior Court of Quebec authorized a $10 million class action in May against Rozon. The lawsuit alleges he abused at least 20 women between 1982 and 2016.

That case is still moving forward, Robert Kugler, lawyer for the alleged victims told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Wednesday.

"It's important for people to understand that the criminal system and the civil system are two distinct legal systems each with its own rules," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada