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Days before festival cancellation, bailiff seized assets from Just for Laughs

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MONTREAL – A bailiff seized more than $800,000 in assets from the Montreal company that runs the Just for Laughs comedy festival one week before the company announced it was seeking protection from its creditors.

The seizure came after the company, Groupe Juste pour rire inc., failed to make a court-ordered payment to a former employee who was laid off in 2019 despite having been promised a job for life.

The Quebec Court of Appeal ordered Juste pour rire to pay Andre Gloutnay, an archivist, $666,500, to cover lost wages since the layoff and future earnings until he reaches retirement age, along with interest and an additional indemnity.

Gloutnay testified that the festival’s founder Gilbert Rozon had offered him the post in exchange for a collection of comedy videos.

“I want you to give me your collection in exchange for a permanent job for life. It’s you who will decide when you leave. It’s no one else. I give you my word, you give me yours,” Gloutnay said Rozon told him, according to the Feb. 8 decision.

Gloutnay, who has an “encyclopedic” knowledge of comedy, according to the court ruling, was originally hired to work at the Just for Laughs museum but was given a new job within the group when the museum closed in 2011.

However, the payment ordered by the court wasn’t made, according to an enforcement notice for a total of $850,538.26 filed by a bailiff on Feb. 27. The bailiff’s notice of enforcement suggests that bank accounts held by the company were seized.

At trial, lawyers for Groupe Juste pour rire and its affiliated companies argued Rozon had made the promise in his personal capacity and not as the head of the companies, an argument the judge did not accept.

Rozon sold his stake in Juste pour rire in 2018, after he was accused of sexual misconduct. In 2020, he was acquitted in a criminal rape trial, though nine women have filed civil suits alleging he sexually assaulted them. None of those allegations have yet been tested in court. Rozon, who has denied the allegations, has filed a defamation suit against two women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

On Tuesday, the company announced it was cancelling this summer’s festival in Montreal and taking steps under federal bankruptcy law to protect itself from creditors.

PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been appointed to act as insolvency trustee as the comedy company seeks creditor protection.

Montreal’s tourism organization says the annual summer comedy festival attracted around 180,000 people a year to the city.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024.

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