Montreal

New wave of sexual assault allegations in Quebec washes over social media

A Montreal legal clinic is getting calls from people seeking help after they posted allegations of assault online.

Montreal non-profit Juripop says it's opened close to 100 new files since the beginning of the week

Sophie Gagnon, the executive director of the legal clinic Juripop, said it has been getting calls every 15 to 20 minutes. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

The phone lines at Juripop's downtown Montreal office have been ringing off the hook since Monday, as a new wave of Quebecers take to social media with allegations of sexual misconduct and assault.

Juripop, a low-cost legal clinic, started a free service for sexual assault survivors needing legal advice last month. This week, they've seen a surge in demand for it.

"It really started on Monday morning and specifically on Instagram," Sophie Gagnon, executive director of Juripop, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Thursday.

"We've opened close to 100 new files and we've been receiving calls every 15 to 20 minutes or so."

Gagnon said the clinic has been tagged in so many posts on Instagram, that they needed to assign a staff member to handle their social media account.

A post by singer Safia Nolin detailing an incident involving celebrity Maripier Morin in 2018 added fuel to the movement Wednesday.

Nolin wrote on Instagram that Morin sexually harassed her and made racist comments when they were having drinks together one evening.

"Just because someone is a woman and four foot eleven, doesn't mean it's not sexual harassment," Nolin posted.

Morin has since apologized.

Maripier Morin (left) has apologized after Safia Nolin accused her of sexual harassment. (Radio-Canada)

Naming names

This latest wave of posts is similar to the #MeToo movement that gained momentum in 2017 and the #BeenRapedNeverReported movement that started a few years prior, but according to Gagnon, there is something different this time around.

"Contrary to #MeToo, more and more people are identifying by name the person who assaulted or offended them," said Gagnon.

"So that obviously creates a higher risk of libel."

Several of the people reaching out to the clinic, she said, sought help because they were already facing threats of defamation suits or cease and desist letters because of their social media posts.

Sophie Gagnon, executive director of Juripop, told CBC Montreal News at 6 there has been a new wave of younger Quebecers coming forward with their stories of sexual assault. 4:41

Gagnon said several of the survivors are also a lot younger than they are used to seeing, likely because this latest wave has predominantly been on Instagram.

She said it was important for the clinic to develop this free program, because many survivors don't realize just how many legal options are available to them.

"The spotlight has often been on the criminal justice system and it's obviously a big piece of the puzzle but it's not the only one," said Gagnon. There are other options, she said, including filing a claim to the human rights commission or making a claim in civil court.

Isabelle Charest, Quebec's minister responsible for the status of women, was one of many who used social media to point Quebecers in the direction of Juripop.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, she recommended the service to survivors needing advice.

"I want to assure survivors of sexual assault of my support and salute their courage," Charest wrote.

Gagnon said they have been receiving calls from people of all genders and backgrounds and have been helping callers grapple with situations that have happened recently, as well as claims of assault that originated decades ago.

The free legal helpline for victims of sexual violence,1-855-587-4767, is a pilot program funded by the Quebec government. Gagnon hopes it will be extended permanently past the March 2021 deadline.

About the Author

Franca G. Mignacca is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Lauren McCallum and CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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