(Quebec) Marwah Rizqy does not mince his words: “the climate is not going well” at Saint-Laurent school in Montreal, where three basketball coaches were accused two months ago of sex crimes. Witnesses who have information to share call the member, because they do not know who is responsible for the file. “It requires a real investigation,” she told the Minister of Education, who said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the information was not better communicated on the ground.
The Press revealed on Wednesday that teachers at Saint-Laurent school say they are “discouraged” at the progress of the investigation. Last Friday, during a meeting between representatives of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys school service center (CSSMB) and school staff, the school principal, René Bernier, allegedly said that he did not know how to speak to the person file manager. Philippe Côté, the investigator responsible for the file at the Ministry of Education, has since contacted the union so that an appeal to all teachers be made.
In an emotional press scrum on Wednesday, the tremolo in the voice, Mme Rizqy severely criticized the way Quebec has taken charge of the investigation since the beginning of this affair. It demands an independent investigation.
“It can’t be a civil servant from Quebec, in his corner, waiting for the phone to ring. I have had parents for weeks, I have students, I have teachers, school staff who call me when I leave school to tell me that things are not going well at Saint -Laurent. The climate is not good. Someone wrote to me that the mess is taken. They want to know who the investigator on the case is,” she said.
During question period on Wednesday, the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, said he was “surprised and disappointed” when he read The Press and learning that “the information was not conveyed well”.
“I’m going to make sure the information gets to all the staff and all the families. […] It’s not a question of letting it pass, it’s not a question of failing in the task, ”he said.
“The report will be submitted in June. We will have all the light and we will make sure to disseminate all the information,” added the Minister.
How to reach the investigator
The Department of Education said on Wednesday The Press that there are two ways to participate in the survey. It is first possible to “request an interview” with the investigator Philippe Côté, by writing directly to [email protected], or by filling out a form anonymously.
“Honestly, it’s so terse, it’s a technocratic response. The allegations [sont à l’effet qu’ils se seraient] past the victim. […] These are such serious and troubling allegations. What has happened in the two months since the arrests? “, denounces Marwah Rizqy.
The member for Saint-Laurent demands that the investigation be transferred to a firm specializing in cases of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. “I have nothing against Mr. Côté, but I doubt that the Ministry of Education has the necessary independence to investigate on its own, or that the ministry has already managed such a dramatic situation”, affirms- she.
“When there is a fire somewhere, what do the insurance companies do? They send the investigator, a claims adjuster who is dispatched to the scene, who says here is my business card, here is what we are going to do, you can talk to me, I am looking for witnesses. He is not sitting in his office in Quebec, more than 280 kilometers from Saint-Laurent, ”adds the MP.
Mme Rizqy also claimed that “coaches from other schools want to talk” and that “there are some who have seen unacceptable behavior”.
“I’ll tell you why it troubles me. Myself, I played basketball and the profile of the victims, do you know what it is? Girls from underprivileged ethnic backgrounds. […] Predators, make no mistake, choose their victims. It didn’t last a year, it didn’t last two years, we’re talking years! We are talking about a toxic climate, a climate where people don’t even dare to speak anymore, ”she adds.
Québec solidaire MNA Christine Labrie affirms for her part that “the slowness with which this investigation is progressing is not reassuring”.
“What we need is for each establishment to have a real policy to prevent and counter sexual violence, and for the path to be clear for denunciation. This is what young people have been asking for for years and I have already tabled a bill to achieve it. It is our responsibility to listen to young people if we want to better protect them,” she said.
“The opaque investigative process sends a clearly negative message to young victims, who have had the courage to speak out, and to teachers. For the victims, for the parents, the students and the teachers, we ask for the greatest possible transparency and independence in this investigation process. It would be the minimum of the minimum when we see how marked the lives of these young people have been and their confidence, completely eroded, ”adds Véronique Hivon of the Parti Québécois.
With Henri Ouellette-Vézina and Alice Girard-Bossé
The Saint-Laurent school affair in a few dates
- February 2, 2022: Three basketball coaches from Saint-Laurent high school in Montreal, suspected of crimes of a sexual nature against two minors, are arrested.
- February 3: The three coaches are accused of various sex crimes. Daniel Lacasse, manager of Saint-Laurent’s basketball program, is accused of sexual exploitation. The other two coaches, Robert Luu and Charles-Xavier Boislard, face charges of sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and sexual assault. Mr. Boislard is also accused of sexual exploitation.
- February 4: The Press reports a “super harmful” climate, marked by verbal aggression and intimidation, which reigned within the women’s basketball program.
- February 7: A coalition of organizations calls for the “rapid and urgent” adoption of a bill to “prevent and combat” sexual violence in schools. The Marguerite-Bourgeoys school service center (CSSMB) announced the same day the opening of an investigation, which it finally abandoned a few weeks later.
- February 8: The Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, launches a government inquiry into the case of the Saint-Laurent school. Shortly after, the Minister for Education, Isabelle Charest, announced the opening of an investigation into the “way” in which Basketball Quebec handled the situation.
- February 9: The Ministry of Education ensures that on that day, a letter from the Director of Investigations was sent to the Director General of the CSSMB, Dominic Bertrand, to “announce the holding of the investigation”.
- February 23: The Liberal MP for Saint-Laurent, Marwah Rizqy, asks Quebec to “suspend with pay”, while the government conducts its investigation, “current members and former members of the management implicated in the allegations of sexual and psychological abuse” at Saint-Laurent High School.
- March 2: The Press reports that a group of former basketball players have set up the Coalition of Big Sisters in Sport. Its mission: to put an end to the “culture of silence” that reigns in sport, in the wake of the Saint-Laurent affair.
- March 24: A dozen women gather at the Montreal courthouse, on the sidelines of a hearing in anticipation of the trial of the accused, to support the victims of sexual violence.