MONTREAL – Gilbert Rozon, the founder of the Just For Laughs comedy festival, is facing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault from at least nine women who came forward Thursday.
Le Devoir and Montreal radio station 98.5 FM published allegations from the women, including some well-known Quebec entertainment personalities such as actress Salome Corbo and TV host Penelope McQuade.
Rozon, a giant in the Quebec entertainment industry, did not elaborate on the allegations against him when he announced on Facebook on Wednesday he was stepping down from several high-profile professional posts not long before the stories were published.
The alleged incidents occurred over three decades with the most recent coming in 2016 and some of the women claimed they were teenagers at the time.
Montreal police would not confirm various reports that one woman had recently filed a sexual assault complaint against Rozon dating back to 1994 in Paris.
But in the wake of allegations, Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet said on Twitter the force was “very sensitive” to the current situation and that all complaints would be handled with the utmost professionalism by the force’s sex-assault unit.
He added the tag #moiaussi — the French hashtag equivalent to the #metoo movement on social media that arose in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Le Devoir and 98.5 FM both said Rozon declined to comment through a spokesperson and that he preferred to see the allegations before speaking.
Rozon did not elaborate when he resigned as president of the popular comedy festival, vice-president of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and as head of the committee behind Montreal’s 375th-anniversary celebrations.
“I am stepping aside out of respect for the employees and families who work for these organizations as well as all our partners,” he wrote.
Rozon, 62, ended his statement this way: “To all those I have offended during my life, I am sincerely sorry.”
Spokespeople for those various organizations declined to comment further.
On Thursday, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he received a text from Rozon on Wednesday night announcing he was quitting, but didn’t discuss the situation with him further.
Coderre said he’d let the judicial process play out, but that the pressure on the victims should be relieved.
“It’s zero tolerance,” Coderre said. “We must think of those who denounce and encourage them to do so.”
Rozon’s announcement came just a few hours after Quebec artist Guillaume Wagner spoke out on his Facebook page about separate allegations of sexual misconduct on Wednesday involving Eric Salvail, another well-known media personality in the province.
Wagner wrote: “Now let’s talk about the next one. Gilbert Rozon.”
Wagner said in a lengthy post he’d heard the rumours and that he would no longer work for Just For Laughs “as long as someone who assaults is in charge.”
The fallout continued for Rozon on Thursday as M6, a television network in France, said it was suspending “La France a un incroyable talent,” (France Has Talent) a show in which Rozon was a judge.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about Rozon as he campaigned in Quebec on Thursday ahead of a federal byelection Monday.
“It’s unacceptable for anyone to feel insecure or harassed at work, at home, in the streets and I think people are beginning to get it,” Trudeau said in Roberval, emphasizing he was not talking specifically about Rozon’s case.
“Mindsets are beginning to change…It doesn’t matter how much power you have, how much influence you have. It’s never alright.”
Also on Thursday, Cogeco Media announced that Quebec City radio personality Gilles Parent would no longer be on FM93 after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.
Le Journal de Quebec reported that several women told the newspaper Parent’s behaviour was out of place and included sexually charged comments as well as touching.
Cogeco Media acknowledged in a statement it was made aware in May 2016 that a female employee at the station complained about Parent harassing and touching her and making sexual advances.
The statement said Parent “admitted his wrongdoings” and was disciplined, although the company did not say how.
In a written statement to the media on Thursday night, Parent said he had already apologized for what he said was “clumsiness.”
Parent also said he understood Cogeco Media’s decision to pulled him off the air and offered his “deepest apologies” to colleagues and clients.