I’m still flummoxed about the whole Jian Ghomeshi trial. Not about the facts, but more about my feelings regarding the case and how it unfolded.
Initially, I thought the defense would be crushed. I heard interviews with some of the accusers and they sounded credible. There was enough in common with their stories to make them easily believable. Once the trial started, a number of things came out that hadn’t been mentioned in the interviews. Like the day after Ghomeshi aledgedly assaulted her, Lucy DeCoutere sent him an e-mail message that said,
I want to fuck your brains out. Tonight.1
That doesn’t sound good at all. Weeks later, she sent him flowers with a note that said, “I love your hands.” In an interview, she explained these messages,
I wasn’t even thinking about after because I didn’t think it mattered — because it shouldn’t matter. Now I understand that it matters because it measures your memory. I didn’t know my memory was on trial.2
This makes no sense to me. If you remember all the stuff that helps your case and forget everything that damages it, you think it doesn’t matter? Further, what you remember defines your experience as you tell your story in court. Of course it matters!
Is it any wonder the judge found the witnesses for the prosecution unreliable and even deceptive?
The CBC wrote of the judge:
And while he acknowledged that victims of abuse may rely on one another for support, he said the 5 000 messages exchanged between DeCoutere and another complainant sounded like they could be plotting to ruin the former broadcaster.
“While this anger and this animus may simply reflect the legitimate feelings of victims of abuse, it also raises the need for the court to proceed with caution,” he said. “Ms. DeCoutere and S.D. considered themselves to be a ‘team’ and the goal was to bring down Mr. Ghomeshi.”3
This is when the trial was over for me. I recall that there was even discussion among commentators about the possibility of collusion charges, though that didn’t happen. Regardless, when two witnesses exchange such an incredible volume of e-mail about the case and state they’re going to get Ghomeshi, the goal of the legal action is no longer to get to the truth of what happened. And as such, it really has no place in a courtroom. It was really no surprise to me that the judge found plenty of reasons to doubt the witnesses and therefore find Ghomeshi not guilty of the charges.
After the verdict, supporters of the witnesses held a rally in front of the Toronto Police headquarters. Linda Redgrave, one of the witnesses, spoke to the assembled crowd:
I’m glad it’s over, but it’s really not over. It’s now time to keep these conversations going and to stop the way that these sexual assaults are tried. It’s barbaric, it’s antiquated, it needs to change and it needs to stop.4
While I understand her emotions and anger, let’s not overstate things. What’s barbaric and antiquated is the treatment rape victims suffer in some parts of the world when not only is the victim blamed, but she’s punished by stoning or killed by family members.
Further, our justice system is balanced to make conviction difficult. I’ve heard it said many times, both in regards to this trial and more generally, that Canadian jurisprudence is set up with the thought that it’s far better to let a guilty person go free than to put an innocent person in jail. I can’t help but support this relative weighting of the required evidence. People lie and innocent people have been accused of crimes. I have no problem with the mechanics of sexual assault cases being changed to protect the victim, but the standards of evidence must remain as they are. I don’t want to live in a society where only an accusation is enough to send the accused to jail. In my opinion, that would approach barbarism.
This event also makes it clear to me that we’ve got a long way to go in terms of treating women the same way we treat men. I watched an interview with Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, and she stated that she’s received no end of criticism and even hate-mail about this event. The real eye-opener to me was the claim that she betrayed all women when she won Ghomeshi’s case. What does this mean? A woman, shouldn’t defend a sexual assault case? Textbook sexist. Or that Ghomeshi doesn’t deserve his day in court? Well, that would only be the case if he were guilty, which we don’t know until he has his day in court.
I recall people I know commenting about court cases in the past, saying, “Why bother with a trial? We know he/she is guilty.” That kind of talk scares me. It’s a step away from a mob hanging someone, and history shows us where that road leads. Those deciding these cases need to leave emotion at the courthouse door.
- Sarah Boesveld, “Exclusive: Lucy DeCoutere on the Ghomeshi disaster,” Chatelaine.
- CBC News, “Jian Ghomeshi trial’s not guilty decision triggers outrage, march to police headquarters,” CBC News.