Audible murmurs and gasps filled the courtroom on Friday as correspondence sent by Lucy DeCoutere to Jian Ghomeshi projected on a jumbo screen. This was the covert “real conversation” defence lawyer Marie Henein promised in the cliffhanger close of court Thursday when she asked DeCoutere: “Do you want to tell His Honour the real conversation? The one that you have not told anybody even today, even when you met with the police?…Not the one you’ve been reporting to the media, not the one in press releases.”
This “real conversation,” the defence contended, occurred mostly electronically between DeCoutere and Ghomeshi sporadically over seven years after the sexual assault that the actress and Royal Air Force reserves captain alleged occurred on July 4, 2003. Specifically, the court saw DeCoutere’s one-sided attempts to engage the former CBC host in friendship—and much more—after the night Ghomeshi allegedly choked and slapped her at his house.
With dramatic flourish, Henein presented snippets from 22 emails, two Facebook posts, and a hand-written letter sent between July 5, 2003—hours after the alleged assault—and Sept. 8, 2010. Quickly it became clear that the tone and content of these missives didn’t square with a narrative DeCouture had laid out in her many media interviews since coming forward in October 2014; it also, Henein charged, was inconsistent with the version DeCoutere gave police and under oath this week. Publicly, DeCoutere has denied romantic interest in Ghomeshi; she said her visit to Toronto the month after she met the then-CBC Newsworld TV host was not specifically to see him but to see other friends; she’d mocked his first-date request to go back to his house to “hold her”as “cheesy”; in court, she’d insisted repeatedly that her bids to befriend him were intended to “normalize” the alleged attack stemming from her “people-pleaser” nature and need for happy harmony, what DeCoutere calls “flattening any negative.”
Henein zoned in on selective lines from these banter-filled emails, often asking DeCoutere to read them aloud to the court. In one, dated Oct. 17, 2003, DeCoutere writes: “sunday, in my brain, has a slot all for you. rrrrrr.” On May 26, 2004, the actress and producer warns Ghomeshi: “i might stalk you a little between meetings” at the Banff TV festival. After he responds “I can’t promise much because the next month an a half are bonkers,” she persists: “I wanna play with you,” she writes, suggesting “Pims on the terrace? chance encounter in the broom closet?” A sexually suggestive black-and-white photo DeCoutere sent Ghomeshi in which she posed with a water bottle—”fellated” it, Henein said repeatedly—was also admitted to evidence. She sent the photo to many of her friends, DeCoutere protested, even women. Heinen also noted DeCoutere had sent Ghomeshi flowers as a “thank you” and congratulations for buying a new car.
Henein saved the most incendiary email, dated July 5, 2003, for last. Noting this was mere hours after the alleged assault, Henein asked DeCoutere if she’d been warned by police that “it is a crime to make a false statement.” “Yes,” DeCoutere said before reading aloud: “Getting to know you has literally changed my mind—in a good way I think.” Then, the ending: “You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to f—k your brains out. Tonight.” DeCoutere protested: “When I said ‘he kicked my ass’ there’s no way it was ‘I liked it when you choked me’.” She had “conflicted feelings about Mr. Ghomeshi,” she said. DeCoutere maintained that Ghomeshi choked her for 10 seconds than slapped her three times: “He choked me with no consent. I never asked for it. He slapped me with no consent. I never asked for it.”
Next Henein presented the epistolatory coup de grace: what she called the “love letter”—a six-page hand-written note dated July 9, 2003, five days after the alleged choking and slapping. In it, DeCoutere referred to Ghomeshi as “too sparkling” and admitted, “I had no reason to come to Toronto but to visit you.” She referred to his “I want to hold you” line positively: “I mean, really, what on Earth could be better than lying with you listening to music & having peace.” DeCoutere was eager to see Ghomeshi again, she wrote: “Jian. You’re great. And I want to know more, have more fun easy times with you because it is so very rare—right?” before joking: “How many other men get this whole animal-kid f–king thing?” Again she suggested sexual interest: “I am sad we didn’t spend the night together.” Henein asked DeCoutere to read the sign-off, knowing it would summon gasps in the courtroom: “I love your hands. Lucy”
“You had feelings for him,” Henein said. “It does not change the heart of matter,” DeCoutere answered, likening what happened to a wife “being assaulted by husband and staying with them.” She didn’t have context to understand what happened, she said: “I mentioned to court earlier I was not used to being in violent situations, BDSM situations.” She noted that “women can be assaulted by someone and still have feelings for them afterwards.”
“You told police you’d only meet in passing,” Henein said, a statement, incidentally, that was not contradicted by the content of the emails. “I had complicated feeling about Mr. Ghomeshi,” DeCoutere said, “because I had so much guilt about negativity.”
Clear inconsistencies between the communication and what DeCoutere told the police and the court gave Henein grounds to say DeCoutere purposefully withheld evidence (DeCoutere said she didn’t remember sending the emails) and even that she made the whole thing up: “There was no sexual assault,” Henein said: “You said ‘I want to f–k your brains out’ the next day.” She continued: “It [the assault] never happened.” “Oh, it happened,” DeCoutere responded.
But does the conclusion that there was no assault actually follow from the evidence? Henein’s framing email exchanges between a woman with a crush on a man who shows little actual interest in her as the “real conversation” of the sexual assault trial is a brilliant bit of semantic transference. For while these communications are definitely shocking, perplexing, and even sad, they’re distracting chatter. The “real conversation” taking place in courtroom 125 of Toronto’s Old City Hall currently is whether or not Jian Ghomeshi sexually assaulted DeCoutere and two other women. In presenting the correspondence, the defence appears to be trying to establish some sort of retroactive implied consent, which, of course, is moot: at the time of the alleged assault, the future hadn’t occurred.
Only DeCoutere’s emails were flashed on screen Friday; lines from Ghomeshi’s emails were read aloud. Email exhibits entered by the defence show Ghomeshi being polite while clearly not interested in pursuing a relationship with DeCoutere. Yet clearly that relationship wasn’t meaningless to him: Why else would he have kept the letter? (How the court harvested the emails is unclear.)
This is the second time in the trial the Crown appeared blindsided by emails indicating a witness made contact with Ghomeshi after alleged assaults. There was no rebuttal from the Crown, no counterargument that victims of sexual assault do continue seeing, even living, with people who abuse them. Nor is there any indication the Crown will provide expert testimony on the matter. A Crown redirect gave DeCoutere a chance to explain why she wrote the emails, again thrusting the spotlight on events occurring after the alleged assault, not the event itself. Addressing the court, a flustered DeCoutere grappled with the inconsistencies by blaming herself: “I was attracted to him,” she said. “He also assaulted me. He also said and did things that turned me off. But that’s my problem.” She told the court there’s “no untruth in this letter” and expressed bewilderment about the “I love your hands” line: “It is pointing love to the very thing that’s used to hurt me with, which is a magnifying glass,” she said, pausing: “The things that are used to hurt me. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wanted to forget about it. So this letter and correspondence or encounters I had with Mr. Ghomeshi changed nothing.”
Reading that letter in its entirety reveals a bundle of contradictions in DeCoutere. But none of them actually contradict DeCourere’s account of what happened on the night in question, or the larger narrative. And that presents DeCoutere as confused, inaccurately projecting a relationship with Ghomeshi, while somehow blaming herself for any problems: “I am worried that I gave you mixed messages and if I did firstly I apolologize…um I mean Apologize—f–k where is my dictionary…and secondly I honestly did not intent [sic] to,” she writes. She suggests Ghomeshi is a catch, a romantic high-water mark for her: “I am used to spending time with people—men I suppose—who are totally unavailable emotionally that I did not know what to do,” she wrote to him. She also appeared invested in having a relationship with Ghomeshi before it even began. She visited Toronto after meeting Ghomeshi briefly “to see if you were a real, fallable [sic] person basically, not a figment of my imagination.” On the stand this week, DeCouture testified she wanted to smooth potential relationship waters by downplaying his actions: “I was thinking maybe this assault was a one-off,” she said. “Everyone makes gaffes.”
When DeCoutere came forward in October 2014 to allege that Ghomeshi sexually assaulted and choked her, the first woman publicly to do so, she became a beloved figurehead and sparked a national conversation about sexual assault. Yesterday’s events in court shouldn’t change that, her lawyer Gillian Hnatiw said outside of court Friday. Hnatiw asked that the focus remain on Ghomeshi’s alleged actions and not on DeCoutere: “This is and remains a trial about Mr. Ghomeshi’s conduct.”
“What Lucy did or how she felt in the aftermath does not change that essential fact,” Hnatiw, said, noting, “Violence against women is not about the behaviour of the woman.” She redirected the “real conversation”: “It’s telling that the defence did not accuse [DeCoutere] of dishonesty regarding the objective facts of the assault itself,” adding her client “wants survivors of violence to know that what they do in the aftermath in no way changes the truth.” Her statement concluded: “There is no right or wrong way to cope or react or move forward with your life.”
Friday’s focus on the “real conversation” of the R v Ghomeshi suggests that there is a “right or wrong” way to cope. And that—more than an examination of the alleged assault itself—has taken over the conversation DeCoutere started more than a year ago.