Eventually, the bio-bit about Quebecois moviemaker Claude Jutra will again read: “Jutra, Claude (1930-1986), born in Montreal, major mid-20th century Canadian film director and one of the modern founders of Quebec cinema, best known for Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) and Kamouraska (1973) among his two dozen films. Committed suicide in 1986, by drowning in the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal, age 56, while suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.”
But for a week or so in mid-February 2016, 30 years after his death, the director, actor and screenwriter’s bio reads: “Claude Jutra, pedophile, slept with boys as young as [fill in the blank]. Also made some movies. His hated name, merci bon Dieu!, now removed from Quebec Film Awards and various streets and parks in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec.” A bit overwrought, and sanctimonious to boot, no doubt, but the issue tends to over-excite public wrath, and the outrage will likely calm down after the turn of a couple of news cycles.
This sudden, probably temporary, verdict on Jutra’s life came about when the CBC’s French-language Radio-Canada (and then its English-language counterpart) reported that a new biography of Jutra by retired cinema professor and movie critic Yves Lever alleged that the director had sex with “underage” boys, mostly in their mid-teens, but possibly younger. The chapter on Jutra’s pederastic sexual preferences occupies only 4 pages of Lever’s book, and is slightly vague. Jutra “liked boys who were 14 or 15 years old and even younger,” Lever said in an media interview, and although the chapter doesn’t offer specific evidence, most people who knew Jutra or the Quebec film world don’t dispute the claim.
The story amped up considerably in the next days when a La Presse reporter uncovered an unidentified middle-aged man who charged, in a distraught interview, that Jutra had molested him from the ages of 6-16. The story perhaps reminded readers of a scene from the current Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, about how Boston Globe investigative journalists in 2001 revealed the story of Catholic Church priests molesting parish boys and how the Boston archdiocese tried to cover it up. In the Jutra matter, what might have been an arguable erotic preference for too-young adolescents turned, in short order, into a dreaded case of pedophilia. A day later, screenwriter Bernard Dansereau came forward with allegations that he, too, had been molested by Jutra in the early 1970s, when he was 12 or 13 years old. Quebec provincial police launched an investigation, urged other victims to contact them, and recommended that Dansereau file a complaint, even though the would-be accused had died 30 years ago.
The ensuing social eruption had less to do with Jutra than with the reputation of various institutions and sites in Quebec. Provincial politicians were quick to wade into the debate, and soon arts bureaucrats and civic officials, anxious to placate the public, were scrambling into damage control mode. The annual Quebec film awards, officially known as “the Jutras,” handed out in March, were promptly slated for renaming. Jutra’s name will also be stripped from Montreal’s Claude Jutra Park and a street named Claude Jutra Crescent, as well as the streetnames of half a dozen other towns in the province. Jutra’s My Uncle Antoine is still available on YouTube and will presumably not be subject to the erasure operation.
Like 99.99 per cent of the general population, we’re naturally opposed to pedophilia on the grounds that children, especially “prepubescent children, generally aged 11 or younger,” (as the CBC report on the “medical definition” of pedophilia put it), are incapable of engaging in meaningful consent to sexual activities with adults. What’s odd about this still taboo topic is the competitive aggressiveness that people discussing it feel the need to display, for fear of being regarded as “soft” on pedophilia.
Given both the effects on children and the social (and criminal) consequences of engaging in sex with children, no one in his right mind would choose to be a pedophile. So, it has to be assumed that pedophiles are not exactly in their right minds when it comes to objects of desire, that it’s a form of mental illness, and the attention of medical personnel is appropriately directed to therapeutic activities designed to prevent pedophilia and to protect children (all of which turns out to be, according to medical testimony, difficult to do).
Most of the social gossip about Jutra suggests that the main focus of his sexual activity was with mid-teen boys, often working as rentboys in Montreal, and that much of his non-pedophiliac sex was arguably legal. The age of consent in Canada in the 1970s and 80s was 14, hedged in by a few additional restrictions (the age of consent wasn’t raised to 16 until 2008, although child pornography legislation from the 1990s defined children as anyone under 18, or even appearing to be under 18). In the 19th century, when Canada was largely an agricultural country, the age of consent was 12, mainly to conveniently provide child brides for Canadian farmers, a practice then and still widespread in many cultures. However, given the fervour of public outrage about these matters, most discussion of the topic is still confined to professional and academic circles, and as the old quip has it, “Never try to explain to a lynch mob, armed with pitchforks and nooses, the difference between such things as pederasty and pedophilia, or anything else having to do with sex and children.”
As for the late Jutra, the best that can hoped for, as biographer Lever says, is that the revelations in his book won’t tarnish the reputation of the filmmaker – that is, the emphasis ought to be on the living films and their director rather than the posthumous, unfortunate subject of the biography.