After high-profile sexual assault allegations, calls flood police and frontline centres

Montreal police and prosecutors say they have enough resources to handle the volume of new sexual assault complaints, despite chronic delays in the justice system.

Montreal police hotline prompts 272 calls, 75 investigations in past few days

Cmdr. Vincent Rozon says the Montreal police have added more investigators to its sexual assault unit. (CBC)

At the Place Versailles office of the Montreal police service, the phones have been ringing almost every 10 minutes, on average, for the past three-and-a-half days. The caller is someone wanting to report an alleged sexual assault.

The calls are fielded by investigators at their desks, working their cases as they usually do.

But this is not business as usual.

"Yes, we get more cases when there are high-profile cases in the news, but this [spike in calls] is the biggest I saw in my career," said Cmdr. Vincent Rozon of the SPVM's major crimes division.

The hotline was announced Thursday afternoon, in the wake of multiple allegations against high-profile Quebec media personalities

Rozon said of the 272 calls to the hotline since it went up, only about 75 have resulted in a police report and, in turn, an investigation by the Montreal police.

Some of the other calls fell outside Montreal jurisdiction and were transferred to other police forces, while others were from callers who just wanted to pass on information to police. 

Quebec City police say they have received 18 complaints of sexual misconduct since last Thursday.

Last year, Montreal police handled about 1,500 sexual assault complaints, according to Rozon.

'We want to hear you'

To deal with the added demand, Rozon said the SPVM has added 17 investigators to the 33-person sexual assault unit. 

Most have been reassigned from units specializing in other crimes of a sexual nature, such as child pornography. 

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said as part of a five-year pilot project, a victim support worker is also now working within the specialized investigations unit of the SPVM. 

"I think they did a good thing," said Dominique Raptis, a counsellor at the West Island CALACS, a support centre for women who are victims of sexual violence.

"It shows that we believe you, we want to hear you, we want to see if we can go further in the process, we want to keep a record."

Dominique Raptis, a counsellor at the West Island CALACS, says the centre has received triple the calls it usually fields. (CBC)

But Raptis worries that the justice system may not be prepared for a potential spike in the number of sexual assault charges, particularly under the shorter time limits imposed by the Jordan decision last year

"I'm hoping that they will ... put together enough services, enough prosecutors and court[rooms] to handle all of those cases," she said. 

Jean-Pascal Boucher, spokesperson for Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP), says it's too soon to say whether the wave of calls will translate into new sexual assault charges being filed, but adds that the DPCP will adjust its resources as necessary.

Quebec's Ministry of Justice has also added 67 new prosecutors and 114 new support workers to its ranks since December 2016, said spokesperson Isabelle Marier St-Onge.

Tough cases

It's not just police that have been fielding more calls.

The Montreal Sexual Assault Centre says 82 people have contacted the centre since last week, specifically in reaction to media reports and the #MeToo campaign on social media. 

At the West Island CALACS, the calls have roughly tripled. Some women have called for help navigating the justice system, although of the women who do contact them, few generally decide to go to police, according to Raptis.

Julie Snyder, a well-known Quebec television personality and producer, has come forward with allegations of sexual assault against the founder of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, Gilbert Rozon. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Of those who do file a report, fewer still see their case through to the end, she said, either because the investigation stalls, prosecutors decide not to take it to trial, or the victim decides not to go ahead with the process.

"Sometimes ... they feel that they won't be believed or it's been too long so it's not worth it," said Raptis.

Rozon said victims can trust that police will treat their case seriously and thoroughly, but he admits investigators often face an uphill battle. 

"You have to realize, they are tough cases to [take] to court. Usually it's a one-on-one situation. We don't have [dozens] of witnesses," he said.

"Some cases, we're convinced that the person did it, but we have to deal with the Criminal Code ... and if we don't have enough proof ... we have to shut down the case."

Most of the calls Montreal police have received on the hotline date from "10, 15, 20 years ago," he said.

Montreal police flooded by calls to sexual assault hotline

5 years ago
Duration 0:57
Cmdr. Vincent Rozon said he's never seen anything like it in his career: 272 calls to a police sexual assault hotline in less than a week.

'The first thing is to talk about it'

Raptis stresses that all victims need to file a report are their accounts of what happened to them. 

"When there's no consent, we're talking about a sexual assault. So they don't need any proof or any documents or anything like that," she said. 

Investigators, though, need some kind of corroboration to build a strong case, according to Rozon.

"Let's say the first person you told you were a victim was your best friend. Well, we need to talk to your best friend, to tell us, 'Yes, I remember that 15 years ago, you were sexually assaulted by a neighbour or a friend.'"

Still, he dismisses the idea that the hotline might be setting victims up for disappointment. He said even without that corroboration, a call will not be made in vain.

"The first thing is to talk about it," he said.

"Maybe we won't solve the case of that person, but we will prevent another case because she said, 'That person did that to me,' and we will do something about it."