Catherine Fournier discloses being sex assault victim of ex-PQ member Harold LeBel

By The Canadian Press and News Staff

The mayor of a Montreal suburb has revealed herself as the sexual assault victim of ex-Parti Québécois legislator Harold LeBel.

Catherine Fournier had asked Quebec Superior Court Justice Serge Francoeur during a hearing last month to remove the publication ban on her identity.

Francoeur on April 6 approved the request, which enters into effect Tuesday –  coinciding with the broadcast of a documentary about Fournier’s case.

“This choice, as expressed both in her affidavit in support of the motion and in her testimony, is informed, free, voluntary and for the purpose of expressing herself publicly about her experience through the justice system,” concluded Francoeur in his decision. “In these circumstances, maintaining the publication ban would prevent her from pursuing this objective.”

Fournier was with the PQ from December 2016 to March 2019, when she quit the party to sit as an Independent; she was elected mayor of Longueuil, Que., in November 2021.


A judge in January sentenced LeBel, 60, to eight months in prison after a jury found him guilty of sexual assaulting Fournier at his condo in 2017.

“After my identity was exposed against my will during the arrest of my attacker in December 2020, it is finally time for me to speak out publicly about what I have gone through,” Fournier wrote on her Instagram.

“If I will obviously formulate some constructive criticism in the days to come, I would first like to make it clear that I do not regret my path in any way, quite the contrary. I am proud to have gone through it and I came out of it with my head held high, well beyond the verdict.”

LeBel will also serve two years probation, is prohibited from contacting the victim and will be registered as a sex offender for 20 years.

LeBel, who was granted parole this week, is a former member of the legislature between 2014 and 2022.

“If I choose to speak now, it is to share my experience, to help other people benefit from what I have learned by helping to demystify this unknown journey of a victim of sexual assault through the justice system, hoping that something positive can finally emerge from these sad events,” Fournier’s social media post continued.

“Each victim is the sole master of their choices and decisions regarding what they have experienced.”

Former Parti Quebecois MNA Harold LeBel walks out of the courtroom during a break at the courthouse, in Rimouski, Que., Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Praise from politicians

Quebec Premier François Legault praised Fournier’s courage on Twitter.

“A fine example of determination,” he wrote. “You can be proud. It is important that the victims know that they can denounce”, he wrote.

Legault later addressed the situation after a press conference.

“It needs a lot of courage to do what Catherine did, so I want to say congratulations to her and maybe and I hope it will help other women doing the same,” said the premier. “And our part, government is really to try and help these people going through the legal process.

Legault says Fournier should be an inspiration to many.

“If something happened, you have to have the courage to say it’s unacceptable and contact the police and legal people,” he said.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante also shared her support.

“I am proud of my colleague @CathFournierQc. She is an example of courage and strength,” Plante tweeted Tuesday.

“The road is long and arduous for the victims, but we must continue to fight, like Catherine, to end violence against girls and women.”

The mayor then took a question about Fournier at a press conference later in the day.

“I did say to her congratulations, you’ve been so courageous.

“My message is that if a woman like Catherine as a public personality – we know that our life is, everybody is looking at us of course – so to go through this process being a public figure shows a lot of courage, a lot of tenacity and a lot of women are going to look at her and say ‘I can do it too.’

“And yes it is a tough process, but it’s worth it. And it’s important do it if you feel that something happened to you. Go for it. Justice needs to be made.”

PQ leader on the defensive

PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon was on the defensive Tuesday for not reaching out to Fournier in the aftermath of LeBel’s arrest.

St-Pierre Plamondon said at the time of the arrest, he quickly suspended LeBel from the party and had limited, unreliable information about the charge, which occurred outside the workplace. He said he chose to protect the judicial process and didn’t contact Fournier or LeBel and asked others in the party not to as well.

He hopes the case sends a signal for other victims that although the justice system is not perfect, it is reliable, and justice can be obtained. Asked about his message to Fournier today, St-Pierre Plamondon said he’s sure it was a painful process.

“I hope, at least, that after she obtained justice, that she will be able to turn the page and live peacefully with those events,” St-Pierre Plamondon said in Quebec City.

Sentenced to eight months in prison

On November 21, two days before LeBel’s guilty verdict was handed down, Fournier revealed in court that a documentary featuring her was to be produced. She added at that time that she had not yet decided whether or not she would testify in public.

Then, on March 23, she submitted the motion to lift the publication ban. “I want to turn these events into something positive” and “to be able to contribute to society” so “I agreed to participate in a documentary where I testify with my face uncovered and it is within this framework that I wish to have the publication ban on my identity lifted,” she told the judge.

The sexual assault had occurred in the fall of 2017 while Fournier was still a member of the Parti Quebecois. She and another woman were accompanying LeBel in his riding of Rimouski. After a day and evening of work in Rimouski, the two women went to LeBel’s condo to spend the night.

During his trial, LeBel claimed that he only exchanged a consensual kiss with Fournier before going to bed with her in the living room and falling asleep immediately. The other woman was sleeping in Harold LeBel’s room.

Fournier, on the other hand, testified that the kiss in question was not consensual and that LeBel then tried to unhook her bra while she went to the bathroom, where he tried to enter, without succeeding.

She then said that she went to bed and that the accused lay down beside her and touched her for several hours while she was petrified of fear.

#MeToo: Complaint came in summer of 2020

Although the events occurred in October 2017, Fournier did not file a complaint until the summer of 2020, saying she was afraid of the consequences for her and her loved ones. It was in the wake of the #metoo movement and, especially, following the accusations against the former leader of the Parti Québécois, André Boisclair, that she found the courage to file a complaint.

She had also consulted specialized organizations to ensure that the law would protect her identity. The police had proceeded to arrest LeBel in December 2020.

Following the trial, the jury took only two days to deliberate before returning a guilty verdict on November 23 and Harold LeBel was sentenced to eight months in prison.

On March 21st, LeBel was granted a pre-parole release. His parole was set for April 16. Since then, LeBel has been in a halfway house, where he has committed to undergo therapy for sexual and emotional problems.

The 60-year-old former PQ MNA admitted to the assault before the parole board, saying he was “shocked” by Catherine Fournier’s testimony.

Harold LeBel was first elected in 2014, after three unsuccessful attempts. Re-elected in 2018, he had been excluded from the Parti Québécois caucus following his arrest and had decided not to run again in the last election because of this trial.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 18, 2023.

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