Skip to main content

In Quebec, Claude Jutra – who took his life 30 years ago after receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis – is still synonymous with film excellence.

The passage comes about halfway through the biography of a Canadian cinematic legend, after the section about all of the women in his life, and struck the film industry like a lightning bolt: "Claude Jutra and boys."

With those simple words, teacher and film historian Yves Lever threw Quebec's artistic world into turmoil with the publication Tuesday of a book in which he alleges that the man considered the grandfather of Quebec cinema was a pedophile.

The allegation – which came not from any of Mr. Jutra's alleged victims but is simply stated as fact over a handful of pages devoted more to analyzing the director's psychology and art – is not just historical revision targeting a film giant.

In Quebec, Mr. Jutra – who took his life 30 years ago at the age of 56, jumping off the Jacques-Cartier Bridge after receiving an Alzheimer's diagnosis – is still literally synonymous with film excellence. The province's Oscar equivalent is named for him and the Jutra gala takes place next month. Every big star of Quebec cinema has a Jutra on the mantle and nearly every Quebec city has a Jutra street, park or pavilion.

Calls to strip his name from such honours are already beginning. Québec Cinéma, the organizer of the Jutra awards, has struck a committee to examine the allegations and decide whether to remove his name from the ceremony and trophy. Helga Stephenson, chief executive of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, declined to comment on whether its own Jutra Award may be withdrawn.

Mr. Jutra directed such Canadian masterpieces as Mon oncle Antoine and Kamouraska, starring Geneviève Bujold. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1972, but as a Quebec separatist, he rejected the award.

The allegations may place Mr. Jutra among the likes of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen – other film icons ostracized in some quarters after being accused of sexually abusing children. Mr. Jutra's case is unique because no one has complained of abuse and he is not around to defend himself against the accusation.

In the book, Mr. Lever says it was an open secret on some movie sets that Mr. Jutra was targeting young boys. "During shoots, especially those in the country, promiscuity renders secrets impossible to keep. People quickly perceived Jutra had a penchant for younger boys," he writes.

Mr. Lever declined an interview request Tuesday, saying through a representative that he has nothing to add to what he's already said on the matter. In other interviews, Mr. Lever said he confirmed the information with multiple sources and expressed surprise at the reaction to the pedophilia passage.

Early on in the research phase of his book, an interview subject told him a "taboo must be broken when it comes to Jutra. It was that he was a pedophile. He liked boys 14 and 15 years of age and in at least two cases, younger," Mr. Lever said in a radio interview. "I confirmed it again and again with many people, at least 10. I have the evidence."

Mr. Lever said Mr. Jutra was known to pick up underage prostitutes in Carré Saint-Louis – a park near his former home in Montreal's Plateau Mont-Royal district. None of those details are in the book.

At least two friends of Mr. Jutra have since stepped forward to say they, too, believe he slept with teenage boys, while attempting to cast the relationships in a more favourable light – saying he would never force anyone to have sex with him. Others have said it was an open secret.

"Claude had relationships with young boys, yes. Young adolescents, including one who spoke English, would come to his place," said actor Marc Béland, who told Radio-Canada he was then a 20-year-old tenant and protégé of Mr. Jutra, but not a sexual partner. "It was his life, it is nobody's business until someone steps forward to say they were abused. It's grotesque."

Other friends said they will have to hear from purported victims before they'll believe Mr. Jutra victimized anyone.

"It's easy to accuse someone of something when he's been dead 30 years," said friend Guy Fournier, an author and screenplay writer. "If you desecrate a tomb or a corpse, it's a crime. If you desecrate the memory of someone, no one will sue you. The only guy who could is dead," he said.

"All Lever says is that he talked to people who studied the way Claude Jutra acted sexually. What the hell does that even mean? Why would you accuse someone on so little grounds?"

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe