Stardom can be an insulator, but for comedy mogul Gilbert Rozon and Quebec talk-show star Éric Salvail, it seems to have acted as kindling. Mere days after several complainants accused them of sexual improprieties, their showbiz careers had turned to ash.
Both have been obliged by circumstances to leave their positions of prominence. Each is giving up their controlling stakes in the entertainment companies they founded. Salvail is even selling his luxury condo. Rozon, the Just for Laughs comedy-festival mogul who turned 63 on Thursday, may be wondering whether a quiet retirement in Florida is his best option.
It's possible to feel zero sympathy for men who do what Salvail and Rozon are alleged to have done, and still wonder at the speed and severity of their downfall. Neither has been charged with any crime. When Salvail's radio and TV broadcasters suspended him, all but one of his 11 accusers were anonymous.
The attack on the two men's assets began almost immediately, as broadcasters and other producers lined up to vow that they would not work with JFL and Salvail & Co. till they were free of all ties to the outcasts. Salvail & Co.'s viable broadcast properties have already been sold, and Rozon's majority stake in JFL is on the market.
These are all the events of a single week.
JFL is a jewel in the crown of Quebec entertainment companies, and its pending change of ownership drew illuminating comment from Quebec's new culture minister. Marie Montpetit said on Monday that "in terms of our [cultural] vitality, it's the organizations that are important," adding that JFL is "very important." Rozon is so over, she might have said.
He and Salvail have no prominent defenders. Veteran Quebec entertainer Ginette Reno drew headlines for making a sympathetic remark, although all she said was that "they need help" to deal with their alleged compulsions, like opioid addicts and alcoholics.
The two men's falls were sped by #metoo and #moiaussi, the social-media hashtags that prompted many women and some men to go public with their experiences of unwanted sexual advances. But the dress rehearsal happened last year, when filmmaker Claude Jutra was posthumously accused of sexually abusing an underaged boy. Jutra, who died in 1986, was instantly ejected from the pantheon of Quebec cinema. His name was removed from two major screen awards and from public places named in his honour.
It would be nice to think that the developments surrounding Salvail and Rozon are proof that sexual harassment has finally become a serious issue with serious consequences. But disapproval of the alleged acts may not be the only reason why others in the scene were in such a rush to put distance between themselves and the accused.
Another is fear of being seen to be on the wrong side of the issue, or not emphatically enough on the right side. Radio-Canada cutting ties with Salvail appears to send a signal that similar behaviour isn't tolerated by Canada's national broadcaster. But according to former CBC employee Kathryn Borel, it actually was tolerated in the case of former radio host Jian Ghomeshi, who she alleged was protected against her internal complaints of harassment by those in the organization who ought to have taken them seriously.
Quebec comedian François Bellefeuille had a few words to say about complicity in relation to Rozon's alleged misdeeds. "I know that many in the comedy world had already heard disturbing stories about Gilbert Rozon," he wrote last week in a Facebook post. We can assume that many of those people also had advance warning about sexual-assault allegations against Bill Cosby.
It's worth noting that comedy in recent decades has undergone a huge transformation. Comedians used to crack jokes about more or less neutral subjects. Many today present themselves as taboo-breakers, truth-tellers and even moral barometers. And yet in this one area, the still male-dominated comedy establishment has failed to deal frankly with an issue that has also cast a shadow over Louis C.K. and Woody Allen.
In a meeting of Quebec entertainment unions last week, Union des Artistes president Sophie Prégent suggested a code of ethics for those in the industry. Good idea, but who would enforce it? Unless some outside agency sets up a hotline, every company is still left with the problem of how to deal with a sexual predator at the top of the organization.
There's also the predictable backlash to consider, which was given voice on radio last week by Quebec columnist and broadcaster Richard Martineau. He told of being approached for employment by a woman who, according to him, implied through her dress and manner that she was prepared to get intimate in exchange for a job. Maybe men should go on social media to "denounce all the sluts" who do similar things, Martineau said.
That kind of statement, from a man with a wide following in Quebec media, shows that the fall of Salvail and Rozon may not be such a big step forward on the road to freedom from harassment for all. They were made an example, and that may get some people to think more carefully about how they behave in the workplace. Others may see it as a cue to be even less sympathetic to those who come forward with such allegations. A couple of spectacular takedowns are not the same as real, on-the-ground progress on this issue.