Founder of Juripop legal clinic resigns amid misconduct allegation

MONTREAL — Quebec's minister responsible for the status of women says she wants answers after the founder and president of a legal clinic that assists sexual assault victims resigned amid misconduct allegations.

Marc-Antoine Cloutier announced Friday in a statement that he was stepping down as president of the Juripop legal clinic to protect its reputation and denied the allegations against him, noting there had been no criminal complaint filed.

"I deny any inappropriate gesture," Cloutier said. "I affirm that I have respected the principle and the practice of consent and I will continue to defend these values which are dear to me."

The well-known Montreal lawyer founded the non-profit organization in 2009.

Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for the status of women, said Saturday she would call a meeting of an all-party committee on ways to support victims of sexual assault to discuss the matter further.

"Faced with the allegations about the former president of Juripop, the organization must provide us with an explanation," Charest wrote on Twitter Saturday.

Sophie Gagnon, a lawyer and executive director of the legal-services organization, said Cloutier's departure was the only possible outcome for her to remain in her role as well as assuring that Juripop remains a safe place for victims to turn.

Juripop, which promotes access to justice through free and confidential legal advice throughout Quebec, specializes among other things in the fight against sexual violence.

The organization has been inundated with requests as numerous denunciations began being shared online in early July, allegations levelled at Quebec's entertainment industry.

"Because it seems wise and responsible to me to protect the reputation of Juripop whose main cause, access to justice, is the cause of my life ... I submitted my resignation as chairman of the board of administration of Juripop, effective immediately," Cloutier said Friday.

The Liberal member of the committee, Isabelle Melancon, had called for the meeting given the province had awarded Juripop $2.6 million in funding to offer support and legal advice to victims of sexual violence last December.

Formed in March 2019, the committee, made up of four members of the national assembly from each of the four political parties, have a mandate to come up with solutions or measures to help victims while restoring confidence in the Quebec justice system.

Cloutier said he became aware of the allegation a few days ago.

Neither Juripop or Cloutier provided details about the nature of the allegations.

The woman who brought the complaint was neither an employee nor lawyer associated with the organization.

Gagnon said the organization was informed in mid-July and immediately took steps to have Cloutier leave the organization.

Gagnon noted the fact the woman did open up to them is thanks to the confidence that Juripop inspires among victims of sexual violence.

"We took these actions so that we can continue to do the work we have been doing since the #moiaussi (#metoo) movement, to welcome these people in a safe and respectful manner," she said.

This story by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 8, 2020.

The Canadian Press