Just For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon resigns over abuse allegations

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Gilbert Rozon, the impresario behind Montreal’s world-famous Just for Laughs Festival, has quit the entertainment company over unspecified allegations of abuse.

He made the announcement on his Facebook page Wednesday evening. It was confirmed as authentic by a spokesperson for the festival as well as the organizing committee of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations, where Rozon was a commissioner.

“I am resigning out of respect for the employees and the families that work for these organizations as well as all our partners. I certainly don’t want to overshadow their activities,” Rozon wrote in what he titled an official declaration.

“Shaken by the allegations against me, I want to dedicate all my time to review the matter. To all those who I may have offended in my life, I’m sincerely sorry.”

Rozon was convicted of sexual assault involving a young woman in 1998, an incident that he has acknowledged as a mistake and one for which he told an interviewer that he sought therapy.

“I looked at politicians here and abroad, like Bill Clinton, and I asked myself: “Does power go with the obligation to seduce and conquer?”

After pleading guilty to fondling a 19-year-old woman at a party, Rozon received a $1,100 fine and one year of probation, according to published reports. In 1999, he received a controversial unconditional discharge after a judge ruled that having a criminal record for sexual assault might prevent Rozon from travelling internationally, affect his business and hamper Montreal’s economy, the CBC reported at the time. Rozon had also been charged with unlawful confinement involving a 31-year-old woman, but the charge was withdrawn by police due to lack of evidence.

On Wednesday, a young Quebec actor, Guillaume Wagner, said he ceased working with Rozon’s festival despite the lure of generous contracts.

“I won’t work for Just for Laugh [sic] so long as an agressor [sic] is the boss,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Wagner added that he was aware of Rozon’s brush with the law and thought he had reformed.

“Then I heard stories. And then others. And recent ones. It’s starting to come out. It will continue to come out,” he wrote. “When men break lives, the least we can do is to break the silence.”

One Montreal woman, Marlène Bolduc, wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday that she was employed by the Just for Laughs festival in the summer of 2016 as a rickshaw driver. She found herself pulling Rozon and a group of his friends home one night. She wrote that Rozon commented on the view of her “beautiful arched back” and remarked: “Those thighs have got to be pretty firm.”

She said he then pulled off his scarf and pretended to whip her like he was riding a horse-drawn carriage.

“It’s not insignificant. It’s sexual harassment. Gilbert Rozon, my body belongs to me. You cannot take ownership of it, sexualize me and humiliate me,” Bolduc wrote. “You reduced me to an object. You terrified me to the point that I was frozen.”

Rozon’s resignation was the second bombshell to shake Quebec’s entertainment world Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, television host and producer Eric Salvail was alleged to have engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour, which resulted in the talk show and radio show he hosts being suspended. Montreal’s La Presse newspaper reported having collected the testimony of 11 people Salvail is alleged to have sexually harrassed, improperly touched or to have shown his penis.

Rozon was the second high-profile Quebec personality to face allegations Wednesday after Eric Salvail, a television personality, said he was taking a “professional pause” amid reports of harassment, abuse and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo

Rozon was the second high-profile Quebec personality to face allegations Wednesday after Eric Salvail, a television personality, said he was taking a “professional pause” amid reports of harassment, abuse and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

One of Eric Salvail’s alleged victims, Marco Berardini, said in an interview that he has been inundated with messages of support and inquiries from others who have had encounters with the host and producer since coming forward with the story of his alleged abuse, which dates back to 2003.

“There’s no satisfaction in this,” Berardini said by telephone from Los Angeles. “I wish that there was and maybe there will be, but for now it’s just sad.”

“In a meeting he stood up, he took out his penis and he asked what I would do to excite him,” said one person who spoke to La Presse on condition of anonymity.

The Star has not been able to independently verify any of the alleged claims.

Salvail’s lawyer, Jacques Jeansonne, refused to comment on the allegations, shortly before Salvail himself addressed the matter on his Facebook page Wednesday.

“I was shaken by what was published this morning. I’m approaching this situation with an enormous amount of empathy for those who I may have made to feel uncomfortable or hurt. I never meant to bother anyone,” he wrote.

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