Calls flood Montreal police hotline for victims of sexual misconduct

One day after setting up a temporary hotline for complainants of sexual assault and harassment, Montreal police say the calls are pouring in.

Police services across Quebec urge victims of sexual assault, harassment to contact them

As the sexual assault hotline set up by Montreal police on Oct. 19 lights up, police Chief Philippe Pichet said he will increase resources if necessary to follow up on new allegations. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

One day after setting up a temporary hotline for complainants of sexual assault and harassment, Montreal police say the calls are pouring in.

Officers staffing that phone line have received more than 70 reports since Thursday afternoon. Some of the calls have also prompted the SPVM to reopen cases, with the police chief saying he will increase resources if necessary.

"We have a team in sexual assault crime unit. We're around 30 people, but if we need to put some more we'll do that," said Philippe Pichet.

Montreal police are asking that if the reported incident did not take place on the island of Montreal, then people should call their local police station or report it to provincial police by calling 1-800-659-4264.

#MeToo prompts police action

The decision to set up the hotline comes in the wake of a wave of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since those reports, thousands of people have identified themselves on social media as survivors of sexual assault or harassment, using the hashtag #MeToo.

Then this week, allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled at high-profile Quebecers, including former Just For Laughs president Gilbert Rozon and TV and radio star Eric Salvail.

Women are posting #MeToo on social media to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

In an internal letter sent to employees and obtained by Radio-Canada, Pichet told officers it was possible they would receive a higher number of complaints over the course of the coming days and weeks.

"We will take all complaints," Pichet wrote in the letter.

"Disclosure remains the biggest test, and we will offer the best support possible to these people."

  • The special hotline number is 514-280-2079.
  • It's open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Police across Quebec urge victims to come forward

Sûreté du Québec Lt. Martine Asselin said she believes the recent spate of sexual assault allegations emerging in Hollywood and Quebec may prompt other alleged victims to contact police.

"Everything going on right now can give them the little push they were missing to say, 'Yes, you know what? I'm not alone, and I'm going to go through the procedures of the court,'" said Asselin.

She said the SQ has resources such as therapy dogs to help those who speak out feel more comfortable telling their story.

Gilbert Rozon, a giant in the Quebec entertainment industry, has stepped down from Just for Laughs and other positions after women came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Other police services across the province are also asking alleged victims of sexual harassment and assault to contact them.

"We are listening, and we take this very seriously," the Quebec City police tweeted on Thursday, urging victims to come forward.

Both Gatineau and Laval police services issued similar statements online, saying they could be reached at all times.

More funding for sexual assault centres?

Frontline workers who help victims of sexual assault and harassment are hoping this is a watershed moment that prompts others to reach out and ask for help.

A Quebec-wide umbrella organization overseeing centres supporting victims of sexual misconduct says it has been dealing with a slight increase in demands for assistance, but has yet to see a surge.

"We want to be overwhelmed because we would like to offer support to the most people possible," Regroupement Québécois des CALACS spokesperson Mélanie Sarroino told Radio-Canada.

There are also worries that centres don't have enough resources to accommodate more clients, according to Sarroino.

The Quebec government's announcement of $1 million in emergency funding for victims of sexual assault earlier this week also comes as centres are struggling financially.

"It might help a bit, but it won't solve the problem," she said.

While it's not yet clear how that funding will be allocated, Sarroino said sexual assault centres have procedures in place to always make sure they never turn anyone in crisis away.

With files from Lauren McCallum, Jaela Bernstien and Radio-Canada