Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has vigorously denied the allegations and challenged his accuser to go to the police so charges can be tested in a court of law.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on July 20, 2020.
OTTAWA—Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is the latest victim of social media internet justice.
Twenty-one-year-old anonymous allegations surfaced last week against Blanchet, accusing him of “sexual misconduct” in 1999 in a biker bar bathroom in Montreal, at an after-party for a rock group he managed.
Blanchet has vigorously denied the allegations and challenged his accuser to go to the police so charges can be tested in a court of law.
But the court of public opinion has already weighed in on Twitter and in the mainstream media with a vicious tone that is the flavour of the month.
Blanchet’s accuser posted her claim on a website set up to give victims a voice. The allegation topped a roller-coaster week of accusations against Quebec entertainers and media elites.
Even the premier’s wife, Isabelle Brais, got into the act, posting on Instagram in French, exhorting “knights, princes and gentlemen” to challenge those she describes as their “deviant brothers” who “stain your reputation and put you into their boat of s–t.”
She finished by asking everyone to let her know what they think.
The whole of Quebec is weighing in on the debate.
With Blanchet facing an anonymous accuser, more unproven allegations will likely follow.
What is truly bizarre is that mainstream media is stoking the flames with its own sensational coverage.
In the case of the Montreal Gazette, the anonymous accuser was interviewed and said she thought her attacker was bald and that his last name was François. Before the arrival of social media accusations, newspapers would never have printed the allegations, unless they were corroborated by another credible witness.
But all the old rules have gone out the window and the traditional media is forced to chase the tail of the social media dog.
Brais posted her Instagram comments before the allegations against Blanchet had surfaced but her call to Quebecers to let her know what they think will not go unheard.
The high-level shout-out to speak up could become a slippery slope of more social media justice.
Allegations should always be taken seriously, but Blanchet is right. The best place to deal with these allegations is by filing a complaint with the police.
In the current climate, reported allegations have to be taken seriously. But it will also be very hard to prove a 21-year-old claim without any witnesses.
But simply throwing out the accusation in the social media world does nothing to secure justice and simply besmirches the reputation of the accused, who has little power over anonymous allegations.
Unfortunately, like it or not, some of the dirt is going to stick.
And that is why direct accusations of this nature need to be raised in a court of law, not in a social media setting.
As long as anonymous complaints are given credibility by coverage in the mainstream media, we do a disservice to those who should face their accusers in a court of law.
The justice system used to be tipped against complainants who alleged sexual misconduct, assault, and improprieties.
Now it appears the pendulum has swung the opposite way. You are guilty until proven innocent.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.