Juripop board chairperson steps down amid sexual misconduct allegations
MONTREAL -- Juripop board of directors chair Marc-Antoine Cloutier is stepping down from his position amid accusations of sexual misconduct though he denies the accusations.
According to a post on Juripop's Facebook page, a person contacted the organization accusing Cloutier of non-consensual sex acts several years ago.
Executive director Sophie Gagnon told CTV News she could not provide further information about the incident, as the victim did not wish to come forward publicly.
"As long as a person doesn't come forward herself publicly, it's really my intention to respect her wishes and confidentiality," she said.
Gagnon said the person did not tell her story immediately after the incident choosing to move on and remove Cloutier from her life instead.
However, Juripop's work with victims of sexual assault - that includes free and confidential legal services to witnesses or victims of sexual assault - prompted the victim to tell her story to the organization.
"She thought that it was important that we be informed of the situation given the importance of our work with survivors of sexual assault," said Gagnon.
After hearing her story, Juripop obtained advice from an external lawyer, who assisted and advised the board on the next steps.
Three members of the board met with Cloutier, who denied the allegations, but said he would resign after his term ended in October.
"By law, the next step for us to move forward and put an end to his involvement with Juripop was to go ahead and retain an external investigator and do an independent investigation on the question," said Gagnon. "It's a process mandated by law."
The process, however, is often one that re-traumatizes victims, and not one that was desired in this situation.
"One of the reasons why it's so hard for victims to come forward is they always have to tell their story over and over and over again," said Gagnon. "That process would have been really problematic, and it's not what the person wanted. We always go back to the intention of the person who comes to us, and, in that case, she wanted us to be aware and take action."
Gagnon said the victim later told Gagnon she was confused and not entirely happy with Cloutier finishing his term, so Gagnon called Cloutier again, and he decided to resign immediately.
The process illustrated, for Juripop, the difficulties victims face when making allegations.
"We're bound by the legal processes, and we all agree that it's not compatible for someone who's the target of such allegations," said Gagnon. "It's hard to reconcile the needs and the desires of the people who come forward with allegations of sexual assault and the processes that are dictated by law. It's tough to find a balance between that."
A new chairman will be elected at Juripop's next annual general assembly in October.
Juripop said the alleged incident did not take place during a Juripop activity and that it does not involve other employees or administration at the organization.
Juripop opened in St. Constant in 2009 and provides legal information for low-income people who do not qualify for government legal aid. The team moved its offices to Montreal this year.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE WILL HOLD EMERGENCY MEETING
Quebec Minister responsible for the Status of Women, Isabelle Charest, announced on Saturday that she will convene a meeting with her colleagues from the muli-part committee on victims to discuss recent allegations affecting Juripop.
On her Twitter account, Charest said the organization must "provide us with explanations" about the allegations of sexual misconduct against its president and founder Cloutier.
Formed in March 2019, the committee, made up of four MNAs from the four political parties in the National Assembly, has the mandate to "suggest possible solutions in order to adapt or introduce measures benefiting victims while restoring their confidence in the Quebec justice system."
The minister declined to comment on the situation before the committee meeting was held. No precise date has yet been determined, with the minister's office content to say that it will take place "shortly."
Liberal committee representative Isabelle Melançon had called for "an emergency meeting" earlier in the day. The MNA for Verdun said Juripop had "obtained $2.6 million from the government of Quebec in December in order to offer a support service and free legal advice to victims of sexual violence."
- with reporting from the Canadian Press