The sexual harassment scandal roiling Quebec's entertainment scene deepened this week amid new accusations from a star TV presenter and signs that the companies created by high-profile comedy impresario Gilbert Rozon and talk-show host Éric Salvail are being battered by the crisis.
Julie Snyder, one of Quebec's most popular TV hosts, lodged her own as-yet unspecified harassment complaint against Rozon, who resigned as president of Just for Laughs (JFL) last week after Le Devoir published detailed accusations from nine women of predatory sexual behaviour by the comedy king. Rozon has admitted to no specific wrongdoing, and has not been charged with any crime, but last week announced he would sell his entire majority stake in the comedy empire he founded in 1983.
JFL is one of Quebec's juggernauts of entertainment, comparable to Cirque du Soleil in its reach and influence. The company runs several major comedy festivals, has current tours for the likes of Gad Elmaleh and Carol Burnett, and produces comedy specials that are broadcast in 135 countries.
Rozon's move to divest himself could be related to signs that a wall may be forming within the industry against his comedy group. Groupe Phaneuf, a venerable talent house and event producer that lists 20 comedians on its roster, let it be known that it would have no dealings with JFL or Salvail's production company, Salvail & Co., while the accused men held any management or ownership position. On Saturday, Snyder followed suit.
Snyder's no-collaboration move was entirely symbolic. A spokesman for her Productions J said that the company has no projects in the works with JFL or Salvail & Co. Her statement must have been personally painful for Salvail, who got his start in television when Snyder selected him in the 1990s as warmup host for her talk show, L'enfer c'est nous autres.
Snyder's direct accusation of Rozon, however, could be the knock-out blow against a man who, like U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein, had the power to make or break careers in his industry. Rozon was a huge presence in Montreal, where until last week he was also the commissioner of Montreal's official 375th anniversary activities, and an important fundraiser for Mayor Denis Coderre, who is fighting for re-election.
JFL could also have reason to fear the kind of scrutiny that has focused on The Weinstein Company, which some have accused of fostering a culture of complicity around its former president's alleged improprieties. Last week, a reporter for Vice recounted how she had gone to the JFL festival in Montreal two years ago to ask comedians on the red carpet what they thought of allegations of sexual misconduct then circulating against Louis C.K. According to her account of the incident, a festival executive more or less chased her off the carpet for asking inappropriate questions about "a friend of JFL."
If Rozon is the Weinstein of comedy, assuming the allegations are true, Salvail could be called Quebec's Jian Ghomeshi – except that Salvail had a much bigger presence in his broadcast market, on both TV and radio. He had also parlayed his personal brand into a company that had 11 original programs in its production stable. Like Rozon, Salvail has greatly benefited from Quebec's robust star system, which can make household names of entertainment figures unknown outside the province. Salvail's shows, like several competing talk programs, were also engines of that home-grown star system, which has no equivalent in the rest of Canada. After reports were published last week of 11 mostly anonymous complaints against him, Salvail vanished from the airwaves and announced he was taking "a pause" from his public career.
Salvail suffered another hit this past Monday, when Groupe V Media announced it has cancelled all further broadcasts of his late-night TV talk show, En mode Salvail. The show, created by Salvail & Co. and executive-produced by the host himself, had been approved for a fifth season last spring, shortly before Salvail received an Artis award as Quebec's best TV talk-show host. Also on Monday, Radio-Canada said that it, too, would have nothing further to do with Salvail's company until he no longer had an ownership stake in it. La Presse reported on Tuesday that Salvail has arranged to sell his stake in Salvail & Co. to Quebec media company Media Ranch.
Both Rozon and Salvail met the start of the crisis with a general apology, as the impresario put it, "to all those I have offended in my life." In the current climate, those regrets could turn out to be far less than enough to save their careers.