Trigger warning: This article contains information about violent or sexual allegations which may be triggering to survivors.
Even if you’re not fluent in French, you can probably make out the meaning of the word dénonciations. “Denunciation” is an English word, too, but it sounds archaic and clunky. It’s rarely used. There are a lot of words like that in the French-English divide: words that translate, but not fully.
The French version has been all over the Quebec media in the last few weeks. The country’s second-biggest province is in the middle of a reckoning over allegations of sexual assault in its music industry, but the siloed nature of Quebec’s star system makes it challenging for the rest of Canada to recognize.
Jean-François Vandeuren, who runs HuffPost Quebec’s entertainment section, described what’s happening as a seismic change.
“It’s very public. It’s very brutal, and it feels like it’s only the beginning,” he said. “In some ways, it feels like the Me Too movement of 2017 was just a rehearsal for what’s happening right now.”
In early July, a since-deleted Instagram account began highlighting alleged sexual misconduct by Montreal tattoo artists. That quickly extended to high-profile bartenders and musicians.
With the exception perhaps of David Desrosiers of Simple Plan and the former drummer for The Brains, a band that performs in English, the vast majority of the named musicians are francophone celebrities largely unknown to the rest of Canada.
But to a majority of the 8.5 million people in Quebec, Alex Nevsky and Maripier Morin are some of the biggest stars in the world, on the level of Ariana Grande or Post Malone.
In a country where culture offerings often have the difficult task of trying to be all things to all people, Quebec’s media and entertainment industry has a narrow and highly specific scope. It has its own flourishing and prestigious French-language film industry, its own pop stars and sitcoms, and its own talk shows about its own celebrities. Language also keeps that culture fixed on Quebec — a province that, in its politics and identity, has little desire to compromise.
Many provinces and territories have a unique history and culture, but few are as self-contained as Quebec’s. With a few rare, Céline Dion-level exceptions, there’s no real push for Quebec entertainers to break into English-language music or film. Why enter crowded fields in Hollywood or New York when you have an eager audience at home, who speak your mother tongue and understand all your references?
“There is definitely a bigger sense of proximity between the public and the artists” in the province, Vandeuren said. “Quebec has a smaller population, a unique way of doing things, and many celebrities could literally be one of your neighbours.”
Watch: Montreal singer Coeur De Pirate reaches out to anglophone audiences. Story continues after video.
The news cycle compelled Quebec pop star Marie-Mai to open up about the sexual assault she suffered at age 17.
But most of the allegations have come from the public about people who remain in power.
The allegations so far
Here’s a rundown of the biggest allegations that have emerged over the last few weeks, largely over Instagram and other social media platforms.
Kevin Parent, who rose to stardom in the ’90s, has been accused of putting his penis in women’s drinks when they weren’t looking, among other allegations of sexual misconduct. His response was a video that many people, including TV personality Rosalie Bonenfant, felt minimized his alleged crimes.
“And for my delinquencies, my misconduct and all that you want to name, one after the other, it is important that the context comes out,” Parent said in the video, which has since been deleted. “There is no context, it’s a ‘free for all’ as they say, but I assume it’s going to be a ‘rough’ trip for me in the next little bit. I hope it will be useful for something.”
Parent was since dropped from his touring agency.
“The values of tolerance and respect are part of our DNA and are non-negotiable,” Agence Preste wrote in a statement.
Musician Alex Nevsky, who was once a coach on “La Voix,” the Quebec version of popular singing competition “The Voice,” admitted he had been abusive in a past relationship. He didn’t think of it that way at the time, he said, but he’s starting to see things differently after receiving an email from an ex-girlfriend.
“I’m discovering, at 34, that some of my behaviours are abusive. I’m learning what sexual coercion is,” he wrote in French in a long Instagram post.
“Before getting the letter, I always thought of myself as one of the good ones, as if the destructive parts of my behaviour were part of our dynamic as a couple rather than my own responsibility,” he added.
On Monday, his record label Musicor announced they were suspending their relationship with him for an “indefinite period.”
Yann Perreau was accused of forcing women into sexual acts. After his record label Bonsound dropped him, he apologized “for the discomfort, the anger and the pain” that he had caused.
Maybe Watson was kicked out of Alaclair Ensemble, which he helped found, after the rest of the hip-hop group heard an “unacceptable” story about him. They didn’t specify the nature of the allegations, but said they “had no words” and “would no longer associate with him.”
According to singer Safia Nolin, Maripier Morin sexually harassed her, bit her thigh, and was racist to her and others.
Morin lost sponsorship deals with Blush Lingerie and BonLook eyewear, and has announced she’ll take time off from her career to get help.
David Desrosiers left Simple Plan after several allegations of him grooming and mistreating young women.
“Recent public statements have led me to acknowledge that some of the interactions I have had with women have caused them harm,” he said.
After being accused of misconduct, Bernard Adamus said in an Instagram post that a problematic relationship with alcohol was one of the reasons for his behaviour.
“Too often I was vulgar, rude, arrogant and very drunk,” he wrote in French. “I admit I was aggressive in what I said and in my behaviour ... To all the women who I offended, I profoundly apologize.”
Eli Bissonnette, the head of Adamus’s record label Dare to Care, admitted in a Facebook post that he knew about the rumours of misconduct swirling around the singer, but chose to ignore them.
“I understand that in not reacting, I was complicit in a system that works to silence victims,” Bissonnette wrote. He also admitted that in his authority as a manager, label head and a board of director of ADISQ, the Quebec Association for the Recording, Concert and Video Industries, he had engaged in “actions, remarks and relationships that weren’t strictly equitable.”
He announced he was leaving the label.
Two of the acts he managed, Les soeurs Boulay and Coeur de Pirate — one of the few artists involved in the saga recognizable to non-Quebecers, and one of Dare to Care’s biggest acts — announced they were splitting from the label.
Without naming Bissonnette, Béatrice Martin (Coeur de Pirate’s real name) wrote on Instagram that she had been discovered by someone who believed in her and gave her confidence. “But my work, my efforts, and my success shouldn’t benefit hurt, secrets, abuses of power,” she said in French.
“As someone who’s experienced sexual aggression in different forms in my life... I can’t hold up a system rooted in toxic patriarchy.”
On Tuesday, for the first time, a politician’s name was part of the Me Too allegations, thrusting part of the movement into the national news spotlight.
An anonymous account was posted to a feminist Facebook page, accusing Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet of an attack in 1999. It’s alleged that Blanchet cornered the woman in a bar bathroom and asked for sex in exchange for cocaine. When she refused, she said, he tried to pull down her skirt and physically prevented her from leaving.
In a press conference on Sunday, Blanchet denied the claims, saying it “goes completely against everything I am.”
“I have never acted the way that has been alleged, I have never done what was described in the Facebook post,” he said. The 31 members of his caucus all signed a statement saying they stand behind Blanchet.
He invited his accuser to bring the matter to the police, and said he hopes the law will always protect “real victims.”
The accuser also said that singer Éric Lapointe, who was being managed by Blanchet at the time, was present on the night of the alleged incident. Lapointe himself is currently awaiting trial for the alleged assault of a woman.
Libel laws in Quebec are different from rest of Canada
“Obviously, all victims of abuse and harassment should come forward,” Quebec’s culture minister Nathalie Roy told Radio-Canada. “It’s important that people know there’s a judicial process. There are measures in place for victims, that’s the path we’re all given. We live in a lawful society.”
While there’s been a lot of support for alleged victims on social media, the inevitable backlash in media has also started. The tabloid Le Journal de Montréal has published a number of stories with headlines like “Justice or public lynching?”
Sophie Gagnon is a lawyer at Juripop, a Montreal clinic that offers free and confidential legal advice to anyone who’s witnessed or experienced sexual violence or harassment. For the last two weeks, their phones have been ringing off the hook, she said, and they’ve assigned someone to just monitor their Instagram inbox, full-time.
“On Monday of last week [July 6], I was on vacation,” Gagnon told HuffPost Canada. “That didn’t last long.”
“In Quebec, you can be sued for libel, even if what you’re saying is true.”
Most of the questions they’ve been receiving are about libel, she said: people want to know the legal risk before they go public with an allegation, and others are wondering what to do if they’ve received a lawyer’s letter telling them to cease and desist.
“We’ve had to do a lot of work to inform and educate people with regards to the fact that in criminal law, the crime of sexual assault covers much more than rape,” she said. “A lot of people who are coming forward were afraid if the situation that they had lived wasn’t full-on penetration. Sexual assault in Canadian criminal law really is defined as any type of physical contact that’s sexual in nature, done without the consent of the person.”
But it’s also important people know how libel works in the province, which is very different to how it works elsewhere in Canada.
“In Quebec, you can be sued for libel, even if what you’re saying is true,” Gagnon explained. “If you speak things that harm the reputation of someone, and that there wasn’t any public interest justifying you coming forward with those words, even if they were true you could be held responsible for the damage that was caused to [that person’s] reputation.”
‘There are still too many instances where justice isn’t done’
What’s in the “public interest” — such as a public figure abusing their power — is very much up to interpretation.
Gagnon points out that many of the initial allegations were about the city’s tattoo artists. “A lot of people were thinking that the reason they were coming forward was to protect other potential victims from being hurt,” she said. “If it’s a tattoo artist, they [have access to] your body, you might be alone with them. It’s really a case-by-case situation.”
It’s notoriously difficult for sexual assault survivors to find justice in the criminal justice system, which is one reason social media accounts dedicated to amplifying allegations have grown in popularity. Only about 17 per cent of sexual assaults in Canada are reported to police, and of those, about 10 per cent result in a conviction .
Gagnon said it’s worth remembering that the courts aren’t the only way justice can be served — and that isn’t even what victims always want. They have the option to take their case to the human rights tribunal, for instance, or to seek psychological help or financial compensation.
During the global Me Too movement of 2017, a number of Quebec stars were accused of sex crimes, including Just For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon and TV and radio personality Eric Salvail. Gagnon said the new wave of allegations demonstrates how much progress still has to be made.
“It goes to show that there still is a strong stigma around coming forward,” she said. “There are still too many instances where justice isn’t done.”