Gilbert Rozon goes to the bathroom before going into the courtroom at the Palais de Justice in Montreal, Quebec on December 15, 2020. (AFP/Andrej Ivanov)
Canadian former producer Gilbert Rozon was acquitted Tuesday in Montreal of sexual assault and harassment charges, for which he faced a prison sentence.
Rozon, 66, was charged in December 2018 for events that allegedly occurred in 1979 involving a victim whose identity was initially not revealed, but revealed her name as Annick Charette.
The Quebec public prosecutor's office did not file charges from 13 other alleged victims.
In a lengthy and nuanced ruling, Judge Melanie Hebert found that the trial, which pitted two contradictory versions of the events against each other, did not prove Rozon's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt."
But "this acquittal does not mean that the alleged events did not occur," she said. She even ruled that the plaintiff's story was "more plausible" than Rozon's.
Charette immediately expressed an "incredible sense of helplessness" after the verdict, at the same time that Rozon left the courthouse without comment.
"This Tuesday, December 15 will remain a somber day for all victims of sexual assault in Quebec," said Charette, who decided to disclose her identity, which had been protected by the justice system.
"I think I am another example of the limits of the justice system in matters of sexual violence," she told reporters.
Despite the ruling, she called on other victims of sexual assault not to be "ashamed" to go to court.
"Victims must denounce, otherwise we give our place to the aggressors," she said in an interview with Radio-Canada. "This is the only way to push society to evolve... From today this will be my personal fight."
Prosecutor Bruno Menard said he would consider an eventual appeal of the verdict.
Shock in Quebec
At the end of the November 6 trial, the representative of the public prosecutor's office called for Rozon's conviction, saying that the version of facts that the producer gave during the hearings "defies logic".
But Rozon's defense team argued its client should be acquitted on the benefit of the doubt, based on the plaintiff's "inconsistencies" and "memory lapses" in her account of the events, which took place when she was 20 years old.
Charette said Rozon had tried to kiss her and remove her underwear while they were alone in a house north of Montreal. She resisted, he did not push further and they slept in separate bedrooms.
But their accounts of what happened the following morning vary wildly.
Charette said she woke up with Rozon on top of her, and that he raped her. Although she did not consent, she eventually gave in so that she could "move on".
Rozon, who was 25 at the time, said he woke up because the plaintiff was "straddling" him while "making love" to him. He said he had consented but that the sex had been forced on him.
Nine women went public in October 2017 with allegations of sexual misconduct by Rozon, triggering shock in Quebec after the revelations targeting disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and at the peak of the #MeToo movement.
Rozon founded Montreal's prominent Just For Laughs comedy festival and was a jury member on the competition show France Has Incredible Talent, France's answer to America's Got Talent.
The publicity three years ago around the accusations against Rozon led French television stations M6 and C8 to stop airing programs with which the former producer had been involved.
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