Canada urged to rethink approach to sexual assault after Ghomeshi acquittal

Toronto: The acquittal of former radio star Jian Ghomeshi has prompted fresh calls for a sweeping overhaul of the way Canada deals with allegations of sexual violence.

Protesters stand outside of the courthouse after an Ontario judge found former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi not guilty on four sexual assault charges and one count of choking.Protesters stand outside of the courthouse after an Ontario judge found former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi not guilty on four sexual assault charges and one count of choking. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

In a ruling on Thursday, Judge William Horkins found Ghomeshi, 48, not guilty of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, arguing that prosecutors had failed to establish Ghomeshi’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the verdict prompted widespread outrage among women’s rights activists who said the case underlined the country’s chronic underreporting of sexual assaults and low conviction rates.

Much of the anger has focused on the defence team’s strategy of undermining the testimony of the complainants by questioning their recall of traumatic events, and some campaigners have called for the creation of special sexual violence courts, with judges and prosecutors who have been trained in areas such as intimate abuse and trauma.

Speaking to the Guardian, the first complainant in the high-profile case called for sweeping reforms. “The whole system needs to be changed,” she said. “It can’t just be one person on the stand with a seasoned lawyer throwing darts at them.”

The woman – whose identity continues to be protected by a publication ban – said Thursday’s decision left her livid.

Some 15 months ago, she walked into a police station with allegations that Ghomeshi had – without warning – pulled her hair and punched her in the head. The act hurtled the mother of two into what she calls the toughest experience of her life.

The list of what she wished she had known from the outset is long, ranging from how her police statement would be used in court to the toll testifying would take on her nerves. “People tell you to just tell your story and that if you don’t remember, just say ‘I don’t know’. It’s not anything like that.”

As the trial came to an end, the woman launched a website that she hopes will become a resource to counter the gaping lack of information available for survivors navigating the court system. Just one day after its launch, the website had already received some 5,000 visits.

The site is her antidote to the many who worry that the high-profile trial – and Thursday’s verdict – willdiscourage others from coming forwardwith their own stories.

“I still think – as horrible as the system is – more people have to come forward. If everyone stays quiet, it is never going to change,” she said.

In Thursday’s decision, Judge Horkins stressed the need to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Even if you believe the accused is probably guilty or likely guilty, that is not sufficient,” he said. “In those circumstances you must give the benefit of the doubt to the accused and acquit because the Crown has failed to satisfy you of the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But figures from Statistics Canada suggest that for every 1,000 sexual assaults that happen in the country, only 33 are ever reported and just three result in convictions, said David Butt, a criminal lawyer who often works with sexual assault complainants. “I call that a statistically validated 99.7% failure rate.”

In any other sector, a similar figure would elicit calls for an overhaul. “And yet we persistently cling to the myth that for sexual assault cases we’re somehow delivering justice,” said Butt.

In the coming weeks, Butt will argue the necessity for reform to the Canadian Bar Association, highlighting alternative options for sexual assault complainants such as civil lawsuits, where the burden of proof is lower than the criminal justice system, or restorative justice.

Hours after Thursday’s verdict, another woman described an encounter with the former radio star which she said left her feeling “dirty & sad”.

Actress Zoe Kazan said she met Ghomeshi in 2013 when she was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio host. “Before we went on air, he told me I was ‘just his type’. Funny, sexy, just the right amount of damage,” she wrote on Twitter on Thursday.


7 replies

  1. oddly – as an observation – the women outside the courts acted like animals – and were disgusting – aggressive – mouthy – offensive – and some were violent. The ‘feminazis’ really deserved a night in jail to smarten them up – so un-canadian. It doesn’t matter what I think of Ghomeshi -I also didn’t hear or see all the evidence admitted at the trial. But he WAS let go – no warnings – no conditions. NOT charged and a free man. Yet the calls to convict him and change the system to constantly give women more rights, freedoms – and no one questions their accusations – and false accusations – the number of mens lives women’s advocates have ruined – is countless. For the women legitimately beaten or victims – there is no excuse. For the women that have ruined men’s lives – potentially like Ghomeshi – the numbers will never be known. Women want to be the only ones to have a voice and remind us – ONLY women can be victims. Equality works when it works both ways. Not when it only advances and promotes women’s rights. The men these women label – have shown far more class and compassion. The women in fact became the animals they are protesting over. Nice to see women aren’t just victims – but also the name callers, the liars, the protesters and the bullies they accuse the men of being. Canadian eh?

  2. Yikes! You really think that women are out to ruin men’s lives? “Potentially like Ghomeshi”? Pardon me, but your deep and abiding misogyny is showing.

    • If you say so. I guess I will say thank you. But that’s my point. Women can call men anything they want with no repercussions. In this case…all 3 women changed their stories and were proven unreliable. And it happens often in cases like this. But a man calls or labels any woman anything you don’t like – and we are the bastards. Like I said. I could care less about Ghomeshi. In fact he probably was rough with these women. But they are consenting adults. And sadly CAME back for more. So none of these women are innocent. And now his reputation is ruined also. Convicting him- sets more precedents – that men are all something – and women all victims. Open this up to males that get abused by women – and how many of them have committed suicide because womens shelters won’t take them. NO resources are allocated to men. So piss off as the british say. As long as this works in women’s favour – they are happy. As long as some women are called on their b.s. actions and accusations – now we have a debate. Men have rights too. If my wanting to defend men’s rights sometimes offends women – then equality taught women nothing.

  3. All you fellow women out there, I agree with Mike Duffy. There are also women in this world who behave like the men whom they accuse of various things.

    The country I am in, there are lots of women who mistreat men, beat them and even kill them and they are taken to court and charged.

    Of course, there are lots of women’s rights groups who come to the aid of these women and try to defend their actions, but, in the end the law takes its course.

    And yes, if women want ‘equal’ rights then they have to get used to being treated as such legally, too.

    In fact, some guys locally are trying to start a counter group for men, here:)

    • thanks rmohamedali! The law and courts need to run their course. I want equality! period. I don’t defend men simply because they are men. But I do want to protect men in cases like this. Women are quick to defend other women. Even if there is no evidence but simple accusations. In the Ghomeshi case – the 3 women were unbelievable. It’s about what can be proven. Unfortunately it won’t end there.

  4. These women who were protesting cam there prepared to demonstrate, even before the court made its decision known. These women are, excuse me, shit disturbers. One way or the other they were going to demonstrate, they had placards and poster already made. Three imbecile women destroyed a man’s life, shame on them.

  5. Agreed. Everyone wants to be on camera – I think. Ghomeshi might have gotten around! But I strongly doubt he slept with or hurt the 300-400 women in that crowd. I think what sensationalized this case – was his well known public face and career. Not to mention he likely has lots of money. It could be just to make some nobody’s famous – or for financial gain – for the 3 women accusers. Ultimately – the crowd was there to disturb the peace. A man’s life and career will never be the same.

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