MONTREAL – The founder of the Just for Laughs festival, Gilbert Rozon, was found not guilty of rape and indecent assault by a Quebec court judge on Tuesday.
Judge Melanie Hebert said the acquittal does not mean the alleged actions did not occur.
“It simply means that there remains, in the mind of the court, a reasonable doubt about the guilt of Mr. Rozon, because the prosecution has not discharged its burden,” she wrote in her 30-page decision.
Hebert highlighted the courage shown by the complainant, Annick Charette.
Charette had asked the judge, before the reading of the verdict in a Montreal courtroom, to lift the order banning the publication of her name, a request that was granted.
Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Charette said the day “will remain a dark day for all the victims of sexual assault in Quebec. I am another example of the limits of the justice system in matters of sexual violence.”
She said other complainants should not be discouraged by the outcome of her case.
“To all the victims, I would like to tell you this: Do not be ashamed,” she said. “The guilt you are feeling does not belong to you. Despite the disappointment today, I invite you to report, and maybe then things will change.”
Rozon had been charged in connection with events alleged to have taken place in 1980. The wording of the charges was based on what was in the Criminal Code at the time.
The trial heard that Rozon, then 25, invited Charette, then 20, to spend an evening with him at a discotheque in Quebec’s Laurentian region.
Charette testified that Rozon was taking her home afterwards when he stopped at the home of his secretary to get some documents. Charette testified that once they were inside, Rozon aggressively tried to have sex and only relented after she fought him off.
She remained the night, and the next morning, she testified, she woke to find him on top of her and he raped her.
Rozon, 66, denied any assault took place. He described a romantic evening, where the pair embraced in front of the fire and said that when he tried to put his hand under her skirt, she stiffened and he stopped.
He testified that it was Charette who got into bed with him, and he woke up to her straddling him.
Both the defence and the prosecution had argued that the other side’s version of events lacked credibility.
As he left the courtroom, Rozon declined to address journalists, saying he had “no comment.”
Hebert described Charette’s testimony as “credible,” saying she testified “in an honest, sincere fashion, without bias or exaggeration.” However the passage of 40 years since the alleged incident had an impact.
The judge noted that there had been “imprecisions” in her testimony, some of which were “more difficult to explain.” She said the imprecisions affected the reliability of her testimony.
As for Rozon, Hebert noted a tendency to exaggerate in his testimony and said his description of events was more definitive than would be expected considering how much time had passed. But she noted he had not been shaken during cross-examination.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2020.