Films

PUNISHING THE INNOCENT

A documentary exposes Quebec’s scandalous treatment of abused children

BRIAN D. JOHNSON November 7 2005
Films

PUNISHING THE INNOCENT

A documentary exposes Quebec’s scandalous treatment of abused children

BRIAN D. JOHNSON November 7 2005

PUNISHING THE INNOCENT

Films

A documentary exposes Quebec’s scandalous treatment of abused children

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

THERE’S A MACABRE moment in Thieves of Innocence, a devastating new film from Quebec about abused children who are abandoned to foster homes and callous state “protection.” It’s an archival clip of broadcaster Guy Cloutier—now a convicted pedophile—sweet-talking 11-year-old child star Nathalie Simard on his TV show, asking her if she’s “in love with anyone.” Cut to the adult Simard, now 37, recalling the terror of serving as Cloutier’s sexual plaything. Thieves of Innocence is a documentary that plays like a horror movie. With riveting testimony from abuse victims, and creepy dramatizations, it delivers a well-aimed punch to the solar plexus. And it has created a sensation in Quebec, where it has outstripped the Hollywood competition, grossing $1.6 million in just two weeks— almost double its budget.

Thieves of Imiocence was conceived by Denise Robert, who produced The Barbarian Invasions for her partner, Denys Arcand. That won an Oscar, yet she calls Thieves “the most important film of my career.” Its direc-

tor, Paul Arcand (no relation), a respected radio and TV journalist with no filmmaking experience, shows he has the nerve and tenacity of a Québécois Michael Moore, although he stays off camera most of the time. The first

part of the documentary plays like a real-life, no-joke version of The Aristocrats, as victims describe family scenarios of rape, torture, urination, defecation, confinement and starvation. Then the film moves on to its main agenda, showing how the 25,000 children

under Quebec government youth protection are treated like criminals, and are often worse off than their jailed abusers.

The camera cuts from a pedophile’s wellappointed cell to a child’s squalid room in a youth centre. The convict is treated with therapy and conjugal visits, while the child is neglected by an understaffed bureaucracy, then thrown onto the street at 18. At one point, Arcand drags Quebec’s minister of youth services, Margaret Delisle, into one of three solitary confinement cells in a youth centre. Grilling her about why victims of child abuse are locked up for hours on end, the director shuts the door. Visibly uncomfortable, the minister wants out after about a minute. With unabashed bias, Thieves of Innocence pushes all the buttons, from its opening shot of René Lévesque making a speech about child protection, to the heartrending ballad by Simard that soars over the end credits. In Quebec, the film has touched a nerve. But as this incendiary documentary burns through walls of language and culture, it makes you wonder if things are any better in the rest of Canada.