Longueuil Mayor Catherine Fournier, who revealed on Tuesday that she was the one who was sexually assaulted in 2017 by former Parti Québécois Harold LeBel, denounces the lack of support and “solidarity” she received in the National Assembly in the aftermath of this case.
“Nobody said anything, nobody really asked questions. I felt a great lack of solidarity towards me, ”explains Ms. Fournier, emotion in her voice, in an interview with La Presse.
After the indictment of Mr. LeBel, in December 2020, the young elected official deplored that, despite the “sensitivity” of the General Secretariat of the Assembly, only a few “adjustments” were offered to him so as not to cross paths with him. here as part of his duties. Mr. LeBel had been ordered not to approach his victim, but could continue to sit in the National Assembly.
“I was offered, for example, to alternate our presence in person, to change his office location. But with COVID-19, finally, he was able to do his job remotely,” she says.
Ms. Fournier now calls for a global discussion. “I don’t think the National Assembly has opened up that reflection on what should be done when a member is criminally charged, especially in a case of sexual assault. I am aware that it is delicate, since there is the presumption of innocence which is always important, but at the same time, formal accusations are not trivial. It comes from rigorous investigative work,” she said.
A publication ban prohibited the media from broadcasting the name of Ms. Fournier, who was a PQ member at the time. This was lifted on Tuesday at her request, the young elected official saying she wanted to “do useful work” and talk about her career. What she does through a documentary available this Wednesday, which follows her on her long and trying journey behind the scenes of the judicial system. At the end of March, before the Superior Court, Catherine Fournier – who was not yet formally identified at the time – had spoken of her choice to make her identity public as a “maturely considered decision”.
Catherine Fournier was a PQ member from 2016 to 2019, then independent until her election as mayor of Longueuil in 2021. She was 25 at the time of the events. Harold LeBel was 55.
In his view, it is now necessary at all costs to prevent other victims from finding themselves in the same situation. “As an institution, there are questions to be asked. You have to have a balance with the presumption of innocence, but there must clearly be a protocol, ”insists the mayor, referring to possible “suspensions” for certain crimes or misdemeanors under investigation, for example.
Ms. Fournier is campaigning for an “independent respondent” to be put in place to support elected officials who are victims of aggression, harassment or any form of misconduct, or even other crimes. “I had tabled a bill on it at the time, pleading for it to come under the DGEQ [Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer]. It would be important, to go beyond the culture of silence in the parties, to have an external organization. »
Before the arrest of Harold LeBel, Catherine Fournier claims not to have reported her story to the Parti Québécois. “I really have nothing to reproach the Parti Québécois in this story. I did not go to see the chief or the whip. […] I was afraid that there would be consequences for me in the end, by becoming perceived as the one who had come to fuck up trouble within the caucus, ”she says.
She points out that with hindsight and the healing started, she realizes “it was unfounded”. “Actually, I didn’t want to displease internally. I was just trying to gain credibility, to make my place in this party, to live my professional life without being affected by it. I didn’t want to wear that label. »
Her story, Ms. Fournier continues, “is probably not unique in the political world, as it is not in many other circles.” “That being said, politics is unique in that there is promiscuity, in the sense that everyone leaves their place of origin to sit for three days. These are long days that often extend into the evening over a drink and dinner at the restaurant, because everyone is outside of their daily lives, ”she also confides.
Despite this, the fact remains that a certain “omerta” exists in politics, continues the mayor. “When you’re inside a party, you’re quicker to keep quiet because you don’t want to harm other members, and yourself to some extent. This logic of keeping the line within the parties, it means that there is perhaps more of a culture of silence around these questions, ”she notes.
The 31-year-old woman also says she finds it “particular” that the trial was held before a jury in Rimouski, in the region of Harold LeBel, “where he is known and where he enjoys a very strong influence”. “He was someone appreciated and recognized, well beyond political allegiance, with a lot of visibility. In the courtroom, it was filled with people who came to support Harold LeBel, ”she recalls.