TORONTO – Jian Ghomeshi was portrayed Monday as a flirtatious charmer with a sinister side at his long-anticipated sexual assault trial that featured the disgraced broadcaster’s defence lawyer suggesting the first woman to testify against him was lying.
The witness, who cannot be identified under a publication ban, said the former CBC radio star came across as a humble, charming and chivalrous gentleman who without warning would turn violent.
But in an intense cross-examination, Ghomeshi’s lawyer accused the woman of, at best, failing to remember important details of their encounters, or, at worst, of making up some of her story. Nonetheless the woman maintained her composure in the face of the intense grilling by Marie Henein, although she occasionally seemed mildly frustrated.
In her opening testimony, the woman, who once considered Ghomeshi potential relationship material, described how he had shocked her by going from sweet and polite to pulling her hair so hard that it caused her pain.
“It felt almost like a rage that wasn’t there the second before he did it,” said the woman, who can’t be identified. “It was very confusing.”
The December 2002 incident occurred as they sat in what she described as his “love bug,” a yellow VW Beetle, near the CBC building in Toronto, she testified.
The woman, then 41, had met Ghomeshi at a Christmas party and he invited her to a taping of one of his shows. They then had a drink. Ghomeshi had been flirtatious, but she had no qualms accepting a ride with him, the woman testified.
“I remember thinking: he’s funny, he’s intelligent, he opens doors, he’s a perfect gentleman.”
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After the unexpected hair-pulling, he seemed to “switch back” to the charming guy of earlier in the night, she added, leaving her wondering if he simply didn’t know his own strength.
“I questioned whether he actually meant to hurt me,” she said.
On a “happy night” a few weeks later, she accepted his invitation to go alone with him to his house.
They were standing up kissing when he moved behind her, grabbed her hair, and yanked her to her knees, she told prosecutor Michael Callaghan.
The woman said she didn’t go to police at the time because she didn’t think a complaint would go anywhere. Still, the incidents preyed on her, especially as his popularity grew and he became more publicly visible.
“Something that I was trying to bury kept resurfacing and I had to relive the violence over and over,” she said.
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Ghomeshi watched Henein intently as she grilled the woman on the witness stand, resting his chin in his hand while maintaining the serious expression he’s maintained since being charged.
The woman testified that it was only in 2014 when Ghomeshi, now 48, went on Facebook to say he’d had “rough” but only consensual sex with women that she began to think about speaking out. She went to the media, and then to the police, after Toronto’s then-police chief told any victims to come forward.
Under cross-examination, the woman denied she was unhappy that the popular host appeared to have lost interest in her after the initial encounter.
She also defended her testimony about the car he was driving in their first encounter, although Henein said Ghomeshi didn’t have a VW Beetle at the time.
“What I saw was what I saw,” the woman responded. “It looked like that to me.”
Henein repeatedly questioned the witness’s credibility and dissected what she told the court, police and the media, at one point even accusing her of a “false memory” or lying.
“It was not a lie,” the witness countered at one point.
“This wasn’t carefully thought out,” she said at another.
Henein, known for her take-no-prisoners style, elicited from the witness that police interviewed her only once for about an hour before charging him over the two alleged incidents.
The lawyer also suggested the witness had told a friend at the time she was “smitten” with Ghomeshi, something that she denied.
“I really liked him. It was that one incident that I’d had,” she said of the first hair-pulling. “I did want to see him again.”
She never saw him again after the second incident, she testified.
The former host of CBC Radio’s popular culture show “Q” has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault — two of which relate to the first witness — and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He is being tried by judge alone.
The first day of Ghomeshi’s trial drew enormous attention. While the courtroom where his trial is being held was packed largely with media, some interested members of the public also turned out to watch the proceedings.
“To state the obvious, this trial has attracted an extraordinary amount of media attention,” Ontario court Judge William Horkins said as proceedings got underway.
Only one of the three complainants in the case can be identified publicly, actress Lucy DeCoutere, best known for her role in the TV series “Trailer Park Boys.” She has yet to testify.
Ghomeshi also faces one other count of sexual assault involving a fourth complainant that will be tried separately in June.
The trial continues Tuesday.