On Thursday, Jian Ghomeshi, a former CBC broadcaster who has been accused by several women of sexual violence, was found not guilty.
After a month of deliberation, Judge William Horkins found Ghomeshi not guilty of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. The allegations date back to 2002 and 2003. Ghomeshi plead not guilty to all charges.
The three female complainants, two of whom have not been named publicly, testified. One described how she and Ghomeshi returned to his home after a dinner date where he proceeded to pull her hair and punch her in the head. Another said that while she and Ghomeshi were kissing on a park bench, he squeezed her neck and covered her mouth. Lucy DeCoutere, who went to court to have the ban on her name lifted, testified that Ghomeshi choked and slapped her at his home. She has publicly accused Ghomeshi of slapping her “to the point she could not breathe.”
In his sentencing, Horkins cited what he considered to be the untrustworthiness of the female complainants as a substantial factor in his decision. “Each complainant demonstrated, to some degree, a willingness to ignore their oath to tell the truth on more than one occasion. It is this aspect of their evidence that is most troubling to the Court.”
One of the complainants initially told the media that after Ghomeshi assaulted her for the second time by pushing her to the ground and punching her in the head, she cut off all contact with him. During the trial, Ghomeshi’s lead defense counsel showed emails that the woman sent Ghomeshi over a year after the incident, one of which contained a photo of her in a bikini. The woman testified that she sent those emails as “bait.” “The motivation behind my picture — all of this — was to get Mr. Ghomeshi to phone me so I could ask him why he punched me in the head.”
In DeCoutere’s case, Ghomeshi’s attorney also produced emails and a letter that seemed to indicate DeCoutere had pursued a relationship with Ghomeshi. The third complainant gave an additional statement to the police days before her testimony in which she revealed that she and Ghomeshi had a “sexual encounter” after the alleged assault on the park bench took place. (Ghomeshi did not testify.)
Contrary to popular misconceptions about how rape survivors behave — contrary, it should be said, to the enduring myth that there is some monolithic way in which all rape victims will behave — experts on sexual assault have determined that it is common for survivors to behave exactly as these women did: To deny, at first, that an abuse ever occurred; to delay reporting to the police; to continue having a relationship with their abuser.
Many victims maintain contact with their abusers “because they may still feel affection for them even though they hate the abuse. This is especially likely when the abuser is a member of the family or a close family friend. It is also common for some victims to maintain contact in an attempt to regain control over their assault. Others may maintain contact in an attempt to regain a feeling of normalcy.” It is also “normal for a victim’s story to evolve throughout the investigative process.”
Horkins stated that, while it is important to “guard against false stereotypes” about how victims in sexual assault cases behave, “the twists and turns of the complainants’ evidence in this… illustrate the need to be vigilant in avoiding the equally dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful.”
The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the Court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth. I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the Court to have sufficient faith in the reliability of sincerity of these complainants. Put simply, the volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence leaves the Court with a reasonable doubt.
Horkins also pointed to the lack of evidence beyond “the complainants’ word… There is no tangible evidence. There is no DNA. There is no ‘smoking gun.’ There is only the sworn evidence of each complainant, standing on its own, to be measured against a very exacting standard of proof.”
Last month, The Globe and Mail published a story, “Clues to Ghomeshi verdict found in judge’s background,” that explored Horkins’ experiences as a trial lawyer and his past decisions from the bench.
In 2008, Justice Horkins heard a troubling case in which a woman in her 20s alleged that, while she was sleeping at a friend’s house, her friend’s older brother sexually assaulted her while others, including his wife, slept nearby.
“I found the complainant to be an articulate and forthright witness,” Justice Horkins wrote in his decision. He also noted: “The version of events given by the accused and his supporting witnesses quite frankly, and very bluntly, strike me as somewhat incredible.”
Still, he acquitted the defendant because “reasonable doubt” had arisen due to conflicting testimony.
Allegations against Ghomeshi first became public in October 2014, when the Toronto Star published graphic accounts from three unnamed women — all approximately 20 years younger than Ghomeshi, who was in his late 40s — who accused Ghomeshi of being “physically violent to them without their consent during sexual encounters or in the lead-up to sexual encounters.”
As The Star reported, “They allege he struck them with a closed fist or open hand; bit them; choked them until they almost passed out; covered their nose and mouth so that they had difficulty breathing; and that they were verbally abused during and after sex. A fourth woman, who worked at CBC, said Ghomeshi told her at work: “I want to hate-fuck you.”
That fourth woman was Kathryn Borel, who revealed her identity in an op-ed in The Guardian that December. She described the incident she’d told Star reporters about, which occurred when she was 27 years old, and the other advances Ghomeshi made:
A year into my time on the job, he grabbed my rear end and claimed he couldn’t control himself because of my skirt. Occasionally my host would stand in the doorway of his office when no one was around and slowly undo his shirt by two or three buttons while staring at me, grinning. He once grabbed my waist from behind — in front of our fellow colleague, at the office — and proceeded to repeatedly thrust his crotch into my backside. There was emotional abuse, too: gaslighting and psychological games that undermined my intelligence, security and sense of self. Sometimes that hit harder than the physical trespassing.
Borel wrote that she went to her union in 2010 in an attempt “to end this pattern of sexual harassment,” though she had no intention of seeing him fired or even reprimanded. “I just needed him to stop.” Her union and the executive producer of Q, she wrote, “did nothing.”
By the time Borel came forward, several other women had spoken out about Ghomeshi and his alleged violent conduct. One woman from New Brunswick told CBC’s Information Morning Moncton that Ghomeshi “choked and beat her with his belt, smothered her until she almost blacked out, and left her with severe bruises on her body after a weekend at his house in Toronto in 2012.” When she sent him photos of the bruises that resulted and told him she would go to the media with her story if he hurt anyone else, she said he replied, “What’s wrong with you? As if anything like that would ever happen.”
Three women filed complaints with the Toronto police and, at the end of the month, the Toronto police arrested Ghomeshi; in late November, Ghomeshi was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, the counts for which he was found not guilty on Thursday.
CBC radio fired Ghomeshi on October 26, 2014, days after he showed his higher-ups a video from his phone that depicted a woman he dated with bruises on her body that were apparently caused by a cracked rib. Ghomeshi believed this evidence would demonstrate to his bosses how a person can be bruised during consensual sex; he has said before that he practices BDSM. He wrote on his Facebook page that he “voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual. I did this in good faith and because I know, as I have always known, that I have nothing to hide.”
Ghomeshi was a star on the rise in Canadian radio and, since 2007, the host of cultural affairs show Q. His show was reportedly among CBC’s most successful programs, featuring interviews with Paul McCartney, Jay Z, Drake, Jon Stewart, and a host of other boldface names. He was so popular that, even when his managers knew about his inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues, he evaded any punishment.
CBC’s the fifth estate aired a documentary, “The Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi,” in November 2014, which showed that “certain CBC managers were aware back in June  of allegations of ‘assault’ — including punching and choking — involving a ‘series of women.’”
An independent report released last April found that the host was a “deeply disrespectful” employee who “consistently breached” network policies. His treatment of female employees was particularly troubling: He gave a handful of women unwanted back rubs and shared intimate details about his sex life with his colleagues. “Mr. Ghomeshi became a star of the CBC,” the report stated. “We do not wish to overstate the powerlessness of those who worked with him. Based on our interviews with them, they appeared to be highly professional, creative and productive people. However, relative to Mr. Ghomeshi, they were vulnerable.”
The damning conclusion of the six-month-long investigation, based on interviews with 99 people, was that “management knew or ought to have known of this behavior and conduct and failed to take steps required of it in accordance with its own policies to ensure that the workplace was free from disrespectful and abusive conduct… CBC management condoned this behavior.”
Just before the findings were made public — CBC elected to release all 52 pages of the report — CBC announced that it had “severed ties” with two top executives, head of CBC Radio Chris Boyce and human resources director Todd Spencer (they had been on leave for several months, since the scandal broke) who had, presumably, been aware of and enabled Ghomeshi’s conduct. CBC president Hubert Lacroix told reporters that he offered a “sincere and unqualified apology.”
Although the criminal case against Ghomeshi did not begin in earnest until the fall of 2014, allegations against him started surfacing earlier in the year. In April, an anonymous Twitter user started the account @bigearsteddy, a reference to a stuffed bear that two of Ghomeshi’s alleged victims would later describe to the Star: “Before the alleged assaults in his home he introduced them to Big Ears Teddy, a stuffed bear, and he turned the bear around just before he slapped or choked them, saying that ‘Big Ears Teddy shouldn’t see this.’”
Hi there @jianghomeshi. Remember louring me to ur house under false pretences? Bruises dont lie. Signed, every female Carleton U media grad.
— Sidnie Georgina (@bigearsteddy) April 10, 2014
The stuffed animal’s Twitter avatar was, technically, the first to publicly accuse Ghomeshi of violence against women. The account has only 12 tweets to its name, posted over the course of three days. It has about 4,000 followers.
Ghomeshi will stand trial again on June 6 for his alleged sexual assault in the workplace.