Wave of online, anonymous sexual assault accusations growing in Quebec

Click to play video: 'Victims of sexual abuse in Quebec speak out on social media'
Victims of sexual abuse in Quebec speak out on social media
Victims of sexual abuse in Quebec speak out on social media – Jul 17, 2020

Online, anonymous accusations of sexual assault and abuse are skyrocketing in Quebec, with high-profile figures from the entertainment world targeted, as well as professors, teachers, politicians and those in the restaurant industry.

Dozens of social media sites on Instagram and Facebook have popped up, with women and even some teenage girls detailing everything from toxic work environments to incidents of sexual assault.

One of the latest accused is Quebec singer Dan Bigras, who posted a video to his Facebook page saying a journalist told him a woman is accusing him of forcibly kissing her 10 years ago.

Bigras responded, by saying in the video, “It’s an extremely serious allegation. All I have to defend myself is my voice. The accusation is false, I never did that.”

Click to play video: 'BQ leader Blanchet denies sexual misconduct allegations'
BQ leader Blanchet denies sexual misconduct allegations

Bigras is the latest in a wave of high-profile Quebecers accused of sexual harassment, assault or abuse on social media.

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Bloc Quebecois leader Yves Blanchet faces anonymous sexual harassment allegations. So does bassist David Desrosiers from the band Simple Plan, as well as many others.

One Facebook site — Hyenas in skirts — posted a list of dozens of people it calls potential abusers.

Experts say women still don’t always feel safe reporting sexual allegations.

“There still is a very strong stigma around coming forward with allegations of sexual violence,” said lawyer Sophie Gagnon.

Gagnon runs the government-funded legal clinic Juripop. She says hundreds of victims have contacted the clinic in the last two weeks, with the phone ringing every few minutes. She says 90 lawyers have 300 files open in 14 of Quebec’s 17 districts.

She says people are asking for legal advice about posting accusations anonymously.

“Some have already received cease and desist letters. Others want to know what are the risks of coming forward on social media,” Gagnon said.

She said one risk accusers face is a libel suit.

“You can harm someone’s reputation by doing that,” she said. “People assume if they are telling the truth they are immune to libel. But in Quebec you have to show coming forward is justified by some public interest.”

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Some academics say the movement is critical in giving women the power to report abuse.

“I don’t think there is any danger for them to be posted anonymously,” said Carrie Rentschler, an associate professor of art history and communications at McGill University. “They know they are often going to be attacked for what they say. They are not going to be believed.”

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Justin Bieber sues social media users over sexual assault allegations

Rentschler believes the current movement could be a game-changer, similar to the Me Too movement that started in 2017.

“I think it’s significant in so many ways for many people. It’s the first time they have ever said anything to be able to report that, to get validation, to get support and to be believed.”

But others fear the anonymous aspect poses problems.

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“Anonymous finger-pointing on social media really is not the way to go,” said feminist journalist and commentator Francine Pelletier.

Pelletier applauds women who are speaking out.

“We have seen it time and time again. How women who do get the courage up to go in front of the courts have a terrible time of it,” Pelletier said.

But she worries the court of public opinion is condemning the accused without due process

“This is not the kind of society I want to live in. Yes, women have suffered a lot in terms of sexual harassment and assault. It’s not because you harm someone else this will bring us to a better place,” she said. “I personally know of a few men who have been unduly fingered, who have been really hurt professionally by gross accusations, vague accusations.”

Gagnon says it’s time to have a deeper conversation about the need for change.

“Victims and survivors are advocating for better sexual education. They want future generations to better understand what consensual sex is. This is not offered by the justice system. It needs a cultural change, it needs political action,” she said.

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