Montreal

Valérie Plante falsely claimed to have no knowledge of sexual assault allegations against elected official

After a wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations swept social media in Quebec last summer, Valérie Plante said she was unaware of any such claims against any Montreal elected official. That turns out not to be true, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

CBC News investigation finds Plante knew about 2018 mediation process launched by party following allegation

Documents obtained by CBC News show Valérie Plante was aware of sexual assault allegations in 2018, despite her saying otherwise in 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Projet Montréal candidate Craig Sauvé, a city councillor in the city's Sud-Ouest borough, has come forward after this report, and denies the allegation. Valérie Plante has responded. Read more here.


After a wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations swept social media in Quebec last summer, Valérie Plante said she was unaware of any such claims against an elected official in Montreal. That turns out not to be true, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

In September 2018, Projet Montréal's then-interim director general, Marie-Dominique Giguère, responded to two demand letters sent by a citizen unconnected to the party. The citizen alleged an elected official sexually assaulted them in 2012 (the official was not part of Projet at the time).

In her response, Giguère wrote, referring to Plante, that the "mayor and I take note of your client's demand."

Included in the response was the final report, dated May 2018, of a mediation process involving the citizen and the Projet elected official, organized through the party but led by an independent mediator. Neither is named in the report.

"We are also sending you a copy of this confidential report which has been read by a small group of people including the undersigned and the mayor," Giguère writes to the citizen's lawyer.

The citizen at the centre of these allegations declined to comment. The elected official defended themselves, calling the allegations "unfounded and unsubstantiated."

CBC News was not able to confirm the nature of the allegations of misconduct, but did see documents that show police closed an investigation into the matter in February 2021.

Given the above, the citizen who made the allegations and the elected official are not being named by CBC. 

Youssef Amane, director of communications for Plante, defended the mayor's response in an emailed statement sent to CBC News. Amane said Plante was "right" because the "case was then deemed closed."

Question posed to Plante last year

On July 15, 2020, Plante was asked by reporters about the wave of sexual assault and harassment denunciations that were being made on various new Instagram accounts.

"To the best of your knowledge, are there elected officials from Montreal who are the subject of allegations, from your party or the opposition?" a reporter asked.

"Honestly, as the leader of the party, nothing has come to me," Plante responded, adding that future Projet candidates would be asked whether they faced such allegations.

WATCH | Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante denies knowing about sexual assault allegations:

Valérie Plante on elected officials and allegations of sexual assault in 2020

1 year ago
Duration 0:50
In 2020, Valérie Plante said she was unaware of allegations of sexual assault against any Montreal elected official.

"I like to know beforehand and I act then," she continued. "There will be no second chances."

However, the mediation process between the citizen and the elected official, as well as the subsequent demand letters, happened in 2018.

The mediator would not comment on the report, citing its confidentiality.

In his statement, Amane said the mayor was not hiding anything when she responded to the question about allegations against elected officials.

"Allegations were brought to the mayor's and to Projet Montréal's attention in 2018 for an event dating back in 2012. They were taken very seriously," Amane said.

"A mediation process was put in place to which both parties agreed and participated. The case was then deemed closed. Moreover, an investigation was conducted by the police and was officially deemed closed as it was found unsubstantiated and unfounded."

A Projet spokesperson says Plante was "right" to say she was unaware of any allegations against elected officials, because "the case was then deemed closed." (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Police closed their investigation in 2021, six months after the mayor's response to allegations.

Amane contended that the "mayor was therefore right in saying there weren't any pending allegations against any Projet Montréal councillor when she commented back in 2020."

In a statement emailed to CBC News, the elected official wrote: "Knowing I was innocent, I dealt with this allegation in an open and respectful manner, and after a thorough investigation, the police closed the file. I wish to be clear, I stand by my reputation."

Projet spearheaded mediation

In March 2018, Projet hired an independent mediator after a member of the party alerted the leadership about the allegations, according to Giguère's letter, sent to the citizen's lawyer in September 2018.

In the letter, Giguère writes that after verifying with an independent third party, "it was determined that this situation was a private matter and did not implicate [Projet Montreal]."

The alleged assault was said to have taken place in 2012, before the elected official was involved with Projet.

The independent third party did, however, suggest that support be offered to the citizen making the allegations in the form of a voluntary and confidential mediation process. 

Both the citizen and the elected official took part and both insisted the process and their identities remain private.

The goal of the mediation, according to the final report, was to determine whether any laws were applicable in the case of an informal complaint being made by a citizen about a "misconduct outside of political activities by a member of the party" outside of a professional capacity.

The mediator was also tasked with creating a general process to respond and support all parties, including a complainant, when faced with allegations of misconduct.

According to the final report, the independent mediator would not take a stance on the legality or illegality of the allegations. The mediator did offer general recommendations, including suggesting the party update its internal policies related to misconduct, harassment and personal comportment outside of work.

In January 2018, before Projet leadership had been made aware of the allegations, the Plante administration announced its plans to modify the elected officials' code of ethics to include a section on sexual harassment. 

However, the code of ethics covers an elected official's conduct towards colleagues and City employees, not citizens.

Mediation process didn't work, citizen said

The demand letters sent by the citizen's lawyer to both the elected official and the mayor claimed that the mediation "process failed" and made a number of demands.

In the letter addressed to the elected official, the citizen demanded they receive a $25,000 one-time payment for damages "arising from the incidents." The citizen also asked that the elected official resign from all positions other than their elected role, that a $10,000 donation be made to a sexual assault centre and that the elected official undergo at least 10 hours of counselling.

In her response, Giguère acknowledges she has received and read the demand letter but also notes, "if you and your client consider that a criminal act was committed, as you mentioned in your letter, we are of the opinion that it would be better for you and your client to go to the legitimate authorities to obtain reparation."

She also noted that Projet was not implicated in the demands made in the citizen's letter and therefore "we can only hope that the dispute between your client and this person will be resolved, either amicably or through the courts."

Giguère also expressed regret that the mediation process did not reach the expectations of the citizen involved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a multimedia journalist with CBC who loves hearing people's stories. Tell her yours: sarah.leavitt@cbc.ca or on Twitter @SarahLeavittCBC.

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