Prosecutors, legal-aid lawyers touring Quebec to offer advice to sexual assault victims

Crown prosecutors will be travelling around Quebec with a legal-aid clinic in order to offer free and confidential information to victims of sexual assault.

The "#MeToo Caravan" will visit 12 locations across the province beginning Thursday. 

Lawyers from Juripop, as well as representatives from the Quebec prosecution service, also known as the DPCP, will be on hand to answer questions about the legal system and help victims access support services.

Sophie Gagnon, a lawyer and executive director with Juripop, said the group got the idea after offering a similar clinic in Montreal two years ago, at the height of Quebec's #MeToo movement.

"It worked so well, we had over 130 people in attendance," Gagnon said. "Right away, we started looking for a way to institutionalize the process and bring it outside of Montreal."

Nathalie Legault, Quebec's deputy chief prosecutor, said it's important for victims to understand how the Crown handles sexual harassment and assault cases in order to make an informed decision about whether to take their own case to court.

"Sometimes people think their testimony is not enough, that they don't have enough proof," Legault said. "But once we speak with them, we can really explain how the process works."

Resources available

Both Gagnon and Legault stressed victims won't be pressured to press charges if they don't want to. 

The caravan will also help people get access to services, such as the victim compensation program. Victims are eligible for financial aid or free care and counselling to help with trauma.

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"It's important to create that relationship," Legault said. "To be able to come see us, to meet people who can support you, who can explain things to you — that's very important, to us."

All the consultations are confidential and take place in closed rooms with specially trained social workers and lawyers, Gagnon said.

Since that first session in 2017, Gagnon said that Juripop has been holding information sessions off-and-on in the Montreal area. She is surprised by how many people come.

"We were really wondering if people were going to show up at all," Gagnon said. 

Juripop had also set up a confidential hotline, so Gagnon expected they would get more calls than people. "But we had three times more people in-person than on the phone," she said.

Legault said the most important step is realizing that help is available. "Regardless of whether you want to go through the judicial process or not, the most important thing is to not suffer alone."

The caravan's first stop is at Collège Montmorency in Laval on Thursday, Nov. 28. 

Future stops include Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Drummondville, Longueuil, St-Jérôme and Quebec City.

The full list of stops with dates is available on Juripop's website. The confidential hotline is also active during the caravan, at 1-833-JURIPOP (1-833-587-4767).