MONTREAL — Hundreds of people rallied in front of Montreal's courthouse on Sunday to denounce a light sentence imposed on a man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and voyeurism.
Protest co-organizer Alexandra Dupuy said the decision to grant a conditional discharge in a sexual assault case shows how inadequate the justice system is when it comes to handling such cases.
"It's very disturbing, but is it surprising … no," Dupuy said in an interview on Sunday. "The justice system has been working that way for a long time."
Protesters carried signs with slogans including "Don't tell me rape culture doesn't exist," and "Rapers everywhere, justice nowhere."
Judge Matthieu Poliquin in Trois-Rivières, Que., opted last week to give Simon Houle probation and a conditional discharge, partly because a conviction would make it hard for Houle to travel as an engineer.
Poliquin said the 2019 assault happened "all in all quickly," adding that Houle had taken therapy seriously and sincerely regretted his actions.
Houle pleaded guilty to sexual assault and voyeurism after assaulting an acquaintance and taking photos of the intimate parts of her body as she slept in 2019.
Both Dupuy and Marie-Maxime Gaumont, one of the other protest co-organizers, said while most people are criticizing Poliquin, it's the legal process that ought to be questioned and revisited.
"It's so disgusting, we can't just stay there without doing anything, we need to denounce our deep anger toward the justice system that protects aggressors," Gaumont said. "I feel like we are going in a circle and that nothing is being done to change it; we had the proof with Poliquin's sentence."
Quebec's Crown prosecutors office said it will appeal the judge's decision.
Several demonstrators drew comparisons between Houle's case and that of Gilbert Rozon, founder of the Just for Laughs festival, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 1999 but received a light sentence so he wouldn't have a criminal record.
Rozon received a conditional discharge that allowed him to continue travelling to the United States and do business.
For protester Patricia Tulasne, Rozon's ruling played a part in shaping Houle's sentence.
"We're in 2022, after #MeToo, it's unacceptable that a judge gives such a sentence," said Tulasne, who was part of a group who denounced Rozon years ago.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 10, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship
Clara Descurninges, The Canadian Press