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The lessons we still have to learn, five months after the Ghomeshi trial

Kevin Donovan’s new book on the Jian Ghomeshi investigation and trial shows us how far we haven’t come on conversations around sexual assault


 
Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi leaves court after signing a peace bond with his sister Jila, right, and his lawyer Marie Henein, left, in Toronto, Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Mark Blinch/CP)

Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi leaves court after signing a peace bond with his sister Jila, right, and his lawyer Marie Henein, left, in Toronto, Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Mark Blinch/CP)

Kevin Donovan’s new book, Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation, published on Tuesday, is destined to disappoint anyone seeking fresh salacious details about a once-beloved CBC Radio star. The veteran Toronto Star investigative reporter delivers a “tick-tock” as it’s known in the trade—an anatomy of the bombshell revelations that shocked a nation and provided a springboard for Ghomeshi’s 2016 criminal trials that ended in the former Q host acquitted on all charges. Donovan outlines the sensitivities, challenges and frictions involved in chasing and publishing the story and offers various re-enactments, including crisis-management meetings between lawyers, the CBC and Ghomeshi. Along the way he drops intriguing details, including phone calls between then Star publisher John Cruickshank, a regular on Q’s media panel, and Ghomeshi during the paper’s investigation. He also weighs in on why a case in which the judge found Ghomeshi “not guilty” while “not saying these events never happened” unspooled in such a spectacular way (police and Crown dropped the ball). But exploring broader context is not the book’s concern.

Yet Secret Life is rich in unintended consequence, landing as it is in the midst of widespread media cutbacks that make the long-term investigative journalism seen in the Star’s Ghomeshi investigation increasingly rare. The first story resulted from the paper’s May 2014 partnership with journalist Jesse Brown, who had interviewed several women who said Ghomeshi assaulted them. As an independent, Brown, host of media criticism podcast Canadaland, needed the institutional clout—and liability insurance—of a major outlet. Tellingly, Ghomeshi and the CBC used the descriptor “freelance journalist” to disparage Brown—even though the public broadcaster routinely employs freelancers on contract.

MORE: The open secret of Jian Ghomeshi’s behaviour

The 17 women and two men interviewed by the Star who “alleged they’d experienced sudden violence or sexually inappropriate behaviour at Ghomeshi’s hands,” as Donovan writes, underwent a watered-down version of the gauntlet that sexual assault complainants run in court: Why did you see him again? Why didn’t you report to police? In other words: Are you a credible victim? Answers cleaved to predictable patterns: The women feared they wouldn’t be believed. They blamed themselves for inviting the behaviour. They downplayed the experience; one woman reported staying at Ghomeshi’s house after saying she’d being choked to the point she feared she’d die.

Donovan’s own credibility was questioned in court during cross-examination of complainant Linda Redgrave by Marie Henein, Ghomeshi’s lawyer, who hammered Redgrave for, in media interviews about an alleged violent encounter with Ghomeshi in his car, not mentioning kissing Ghomeshi. “Kevin Donovan gets a lot wrong,” Redgrave told the court. The “kissing” detail was germane legally: without it, there’d be no context for the “sexual assault” charge. Donovan insists he got it right; he and Redgrave exchanged friendly emails after the story ran, he writes, with no mention of inaccuracies.

Complainant Kathryn Borel, a former colleague of Jian Ghomeshi who accused him of sexually assaulting her, speaks to the media after she agreed to a peace bond for Ghomeshi in Toronto, Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Mark Blinch/CP)

Complainant Kathryn Borel, a former colleague of Jian Ghomeshi who accused him of sexually assaulting her, speaks to the media after she agreed to a peace bond for Ghomeshi in Toronto, Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Mark Blinch/CP)

The book’s final word goes to complainant Kathryn Borel, a former CBC Radio producer who received an apology from Ghomeshi in court in return for one charge of sexual assault being dropped: “This is not the end of the conversation,” Borel says optimistically. “This is the beginning of the conversation.” Five months after the singular, sensational trial, however, we’re still casting for the context and language to conduct that conversation. The cone of silence surrounding judges’ education in sexual assault was highlighted in the ongoing judicial inquiry into federal Justice Robin Camp, who infamously asked a sexual assault complainant why she “didn’t keep [her] knees together” during a 2014 case.

MORE: Anne Kingston’s one-on-one interview with Kathryn Borel

Even the term “sexual assault” is fraught, as the exchange between Redgrave and Henein illustrates. As in “domestic violence,” the modifier softens underlying criminal behaviour. It presumes reflexive shame, seen in the publication ban automatically placed on sexual assault complainants, the way it is for minors. A need to protect those who’ve experienced intimate violation is real. But a publication ban imposed without individual consent isn’t the answer.

There’s also the fact it has been 33 years since “sexual assault” replaced “rape” in the Criminal Code, yet penetrative violation remains a perverse gold standard. “It didn’t feel like rape,” one woman told Donovan after reporting Ghomeshi attacked her in his hotel room. Lucy DeCoutere expressed a similar sentiment in court when asked why she didn’t report: “I thought you had to be broken and raped.” Borel too reported she didn’t see Ghomeshi’s behaviour as sexual assault.

Undue focus on the Ghomeshi case is like looking at a distorted mirror. While reporters lined up for the Ghomeshi trial at Toronto’s Old City Hall, another sexual assault case was taking place quietly upstairs. It ended in September, with York University Ph.D. student Mustafa Ururyar sentenced to 18 months in jail for sexually assaulting fellow student Mandi Gray. (The next day, Ururyar was granted bail to prepare for his appeal.) In his ruling, Ontario Court Justice Marvin Zuker spoke of the dangers of presuming sexual assault victims should act a certain way, while referring to “rape” throughout: “It doesn’t matter if the victim was drinking, out at night alone, sexually exploited, on a date with the perpetrator, or how the victim was dressed. No one asks to be raped.” Given that sexual assault by definition is non-consensual, that last sentence is tautological. The fact it needed to be said at all reveals just how badly a new conversation is needed.


 

The lessons we still have to learn, five months after the Ghomeshi trial

  1. “I” learned what a PoS scum bag Ghomeshi is. Regardless of how badly this case was handled by the prosecution animals like this should not be free to roam about. He will strike again. CBC should be shut down. It’s a disgrace to this country for what they knowingly let Ghomeshi do.

    • And where did you learn that Ghomeshi is a “PoS scum bag”? It certainly wasn’t from the trial, which proved only that the complainants weren’t even remotely credible. What is your special source for your libel?

      • Did you miss the Kathryn Borel (at work sexual assault) portion of the Ghomeshi affair where he publically admitted to sexual harassment of Ms. Borel and apologized for same? Do you really believe if his lawyer thought he had any chance of winning at trial she wouldn’t have put Borel on the stand and ripped her to pieces like she did the women in the first trial? The problem was Borel had witnesses and paper trail of her complaints and the CBC had fired its HR director due to non-action against Ghomeshi. How would you feel if a guy at work came up behind you and ground his pelvis into your backside…or your daughter’s backside? What would you define that sort of behaviour on the job and the person who does it as? The defence for libel is truth. Kathryn Borel’s case and Ghomeshi’s own confession pretty much sums up that there is no case for libel.

      • Did you not read ghomeshi’s fb post that said he likes to hurt women when he has sex with them?

  2. The only lessons that need to be learned are as follows:
    1. The police and crown need to do a real investigation rather than tippy toe around women who are jumping on an assault bandwagon.
    2. Women need to be truthful and not lie about contact that they have had with other complainants to ‘create’ an acceptable storyline.
    3. The media needs to stop believing everything women say because women lie.
    4. Women need to be smarter in who they are getting tangled with – as a 61 year old woman if any man had done even a bit what Jian had done, I would have been to the police straightaway and my circle of friends would have known what a scumbag he was. But let’s face reality – all of these women were fading in their own careers and were desperate to hook up with a rising star to continue their time in the limelight – sorry baby you have not come far and it is not because of sexist but because of your own sad, sorry choices!

    • I don’t believe you know anything about the second “trial” where Ghomeshi admitted to unwanted contact of a sexual nature with Ms. Borel, his colleague and apologized for same. She wasn’t dating him. She was working with him. She had him dead to rights because she had witnesses and she followed the correct procedure by complaining about his egregious behaviours which including unwanted touching to his superiors and the human resources department at CBC. People were fired when it came out that no one wanted to reign in the star’s behaviour. Kindly do some research. Women and men do not deserve to be sexually molested on the job site. It is against the law. The only one who made sorry choices was the perpetrator.

  3. Re the photo caption: He signed a peace bond with his sister??

  4. Edited version of first caption: Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi leaves court with his sister Jila (right) and his lawyer Marie Heinein (left), after signing a peace bond.

    Note to the Editors:

    I am available for freelance editing. Sentence structure, punctuation and spelling are specialties. Fortunately, I did not go to Journalism school, so I’m still able to write coherently. Contact me at your convenience. Bring cash in large, unmarked brown paper bag.

    • He signed a peace bond with his victim Ms. Borel after admitting his guilt and apologizing for victimizing her while on the job. Bad editing doesn’t change the facts of what occurred in the court house. Even a great lawyer knew a sinking case when she saw it. Notice how we haven’t heard any further talk of his lawsuit against the CBC for wrongful dismissal. Kind of hard to pursue when one signs a peace bond with a former colleague for sexual harassment.

  5. For Jian Ghomeshi, I’m thinking of it like a blank page. Way too many dubious accounts, and he’s been punished enough in the so-called “court of public opinion”. How much is enough, exactly? He’s lost his job, huge financial losses, his family has suffered. Personally, I don’t have that kind of appetite for revenge. And Kathryn Borel is not someone I’d hang my hat on for the definitive word.

    What stays with me is that people say it went on for years and yet apparently nobody called him on it. Supposedly someone saw him with Kathryn Borel, yet didn’t do anything. In my experience, Kathleen Wynn’s account was much more common (where some friends of hers showed up when they didn’t trust a guy who was with her) than this one here that has been gone over ad nauseum. Q’s workplace may have been toxic, but these “snowflakes” bear some responsibility. Luckily, it has not been my experience to be surrounded by people obsessed with their own career to the degree of that crowd. I don’t know how they’ll get through life at all if they’re determined to think of themselves as having no agency.

    Something else stays with me. Last week I read about a case in Edmonton where a murdered woman’s butchered vagina was made an exhibit. It’s one of the most shocking things I’ve ever heard. I believe it might have happened around the same time as Ghomeshi’s case. No crowds outside that courtroom. No investigative journalistic pieces that go on for weeks, and no panel discussions on Q for that woman. These people like their social justice served up in genteel, cliche-ridden, doses.

    • Jian has suffered enough? Really? Did someone force him to push Kathryn Borel over a desk and grind his hips into her derrière? Did someone force him to tell her he wanted to “hate f^ck” her? Did someone force him to demean her every day for 3 years while she was his producer and he was her boss at the CBC? I don’t think so. Meanwhile, everyone at the CBC from the president down to her executive and her union failed her when she went for help and no one provided it. You don’t want to believe Kathryn Borel but she was not the only one he sexually harassed and assaulted on the job. There were others. Women he was the boss of. Didn’t you see the president of the CBC on the air, apologizing to Kathryn Borel for how the CBC failed her? You probably think it was okay for The Donald to talk about how he can just grab a woman’s p%ssy because he is rich. How would you like it if some big bubba at your job bent you over a desk and ground his hard on into your derrière and your supervisor told you to shut and take it? Do you think because a woman was murdered, butchered and didn’t get justice, that let’s Ghomeshi off the hook? When it comes to sexual assault, there isn’t even a modicum of justice to go around. We certainly aren’t sacrificing one woman’s justice so another can some. Given that only 5 in 1000 sexual assault cases get a conviction, we have a long way to go before we start worrying that Ghomeshi’s trial is stealing the limelight from other more deserving cases.

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