Nearly a year after a guilty verdict, a small-town mayor convicted of sexually assaulting his secretary remains in office. His victim, however, is the one who's now unemployed as a result.
Last week, a Quebec court lifted the publication ban protecting Caroline Lamarre's identity, allowing the victim to tell her side of the story.
Through her lawyer, Lamarre revealed that she had been unable to return to work at Baie-Trinité town hall, since the worker's compensation she started receiving sometime after the assault is conditional on her keeping her distance from her aggressor, Denis Lejeune, who is somehow still running the town.
"The law as it stands allows municipal mayors to remain in office even if they're found guilty of a criminal offence, as long as the sentence is less than 30 days in prison," Lamarre's lawyer Steve Bargoné told VICE. "In this case, mayor Lejeune was sentenced to 120 hours of community service and had to make a $4,000 donation [to a victim support group], plus two years probation where he agrees to terms that include staying away from this woman."
Bargoné told VICE his client has not been accommodated. "The problem in the file is that she has a limitation related to [her worker's compensation], so to not be in the presence of her harasser. But since the mayor didn't get 30 days in prison, it means he can remain mayor, which means that [Lamarre] can't return to work."
One solution, Bargoné says, would be to find Lejeune another gig. "We're talking about a town of 400 people, not Montreal. The mayor of Baie-Trinité is a part-time job."
The case stems back to incidents that occurred in 2011 and 2012, during which Lejeune sexually assaulted Lamarre on the job.
In media reports from the trial, Lejeune admitted to telling Lamarre some dirty jokes but says shewas the one coming on to him, and that she solicited sexual touching.
"I find it appalling that we could still have tolerance towards this," Bargoné said. "There have been online comments [on recent media stories], and it's still often "well she did this, she did that," it's almost like people are saying she deserved it."
"No one deserves this, we still teach everybody that no means no and that's it. Mayor Lejeune is someone in a position of authority, he's elected, he's a public man."
Lejeune is now appealing the verdict, but Bargoné says that for his client, the trial has continued in the court of public opinion.
"Even though the publication ban was only dropped last week, most of the residents in the area knew that she was the victim and there's been a lot of damage around this," Bargoné said, adding it has been difficult for Lamarre to find another job. "She's been a bit ostracized. Some people wouldn't come in to the depanneur (convenience store) when she was there, it hasn't been great."
Meanwhile, the case has created outrage across the province, and women's rights groups launched a petition asking that municipal elected officials found guilty of sexual assault no longer be eligible for office. The effort has prompted the provincial government to amend a proposed bill on municipal financing, adding clauses that would prevent mayors convicted of crimes from staying in office.
VICE contacted Lejeune's office and was told the mayor would be unavailable until "at least Monday."
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