This morning Jian Ghomeshi stood before Regional Senior Justice Timothy Lipson, his back to the public gallery, and spoke publicly for the first time since pleading not guilty in early 2015 to four counts of sexual assault and one of choking to overcome resistance. There was no “Well, hi there,” no “Happy Wednesday,” no signature lines once employed by the former marquee CBC Radio host to charm his legions of listeners. Ghomeshi read from a prepared, page-long statement; his voice was strong, if absent its familiar languid undertones, as he delivered a carefully crafted apology to Kathryn Borel, the former CBC producer who accused Ghomeshi of coming up behind her, grabbing her and simulating sex while both worked at the popular arts and culture show Q in 2008. Ghomeshi’s mea culpa, and his signing a peace bond, a resolution negotiated by the defence and Crown, resulted in the the remaining sexual assault charge against him withdrawn and all criminal proceedings concluded.
Today’s court appearance, which lasted less than 30 minutes, definitely represented an ending, one that appeared a blessed relief to participants on both sides. Ghomeshi’s counsel, Marie Henein, a woman acutely aware of the power of imagery, showed up in bright-white jacket, in decided contrast to the funereal black she favoured during trial. Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan, who was subject to a barrage of criticism during Ghomeshi’s February trial, appeared almost giddy, joking with media before court that he had no plans to scrum given his experience the last time he did so (he was flashed by a bare-breasted female protester).
But there was also no question that the morning’s events also signalled a beginning—the stage being set for Ghomeshi’s next chapter, his redemption tour of sorts. When last the public heard directly from Ghomeshi, it was via indignant Facebook posts, the first one immediately after his firing from CBC. Then still beloved by his fans as a progressive, a feminist, a supporter of White Ribbon campaigns, Ghomeshi laid claim to a fondness for less traditional sexual practices and painted himself as the victim “of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer” as well as a censorious CBC. He called accusations of non-consensual sexual acts perpetrated by him “a lie” and “salacious gossip in a world driven by a hunger for ‘scandal.’ ” He denied any problems with his behaviour at the CBC, a statement later contradicted by an independent third party report by lawyer Janice Rubin. “And so, with no formal allegations,” Ghomeshi wrote, “no formal complaints, no complaints, not one, to the HR department at the CBC (they told us they’d done a thorough check and were satisfied), and no charges, I have lost my job based on a campaign of vengeance.” Weeks later, after nine women had come forward to say Ghomeshi had sexually assaulted them but before any criminal charges had been laid, he took to Facebook again: “I intend to meet these allegations directly,” he said. “I don’t intend to discuss this matter any further with the media.”
Today, Ghomeshi seemed to reflect back on that past self as misguided, even woefully ignorant, while presenting himself now as an even more enlightened version of the Jian Ghomeshi CBC aficionados thought they knew. “The past 18 months have been an education for me,” he said, noting that he “spent a great deal of time reflecting on the incident and the difficulties caused Ms. Borel and I have had to come to terms with my own deep regret and embarrassment.”
This narrative of enlightenment and progress was echoed in a letter from a therapist Ghomeshi had been seeing since Nov. 12, 2014, two weeks before charges were brought against him. (The missive, entered as a court exhibit, is dated April 30, 2016, plumb in the middle of negotiations to drop the charge that took place between the defence, Crown and Borel.) The therapist, whose name was redacted, wrote of 61 meetings taking place almost weekly “focused on the social and personal factors related to the specific charges, the consequences of those charges and strategies for managing anxiety.” Among the topics explored, according to the letter: “dynamics of power and control and the intersections between gender and the social constructions of status and influence,” as well as “the effects of discourses related to male dominance” and “paradigms of intimacy.” If those were subjects Ghomeshi learned about in his years as a women’s studies minor at York University in the late 1980s, he seems to have been an even better student this time round. Ghomeshi is described in the document from the therapist as “a highly engaged participant, examining these interpersonal issues with great commitment and focus.” He’s given high marks for what should be basic, civilized behaviour: “He continues to take accountability for his choices and actions, and continues to explore and practice skills that support healthier relationships.”
The therapy lingo was echoed in Ghomeshi’s own statement, which avoided any reference to criminal behaviour; instead, he called his conduct “thoughtless” and “sexually inappropriate”: “I now recognize that I crossed boundaries inappropriately,” he said. He was “insensitive to [Borel’s] perspective and how demeaning my conduct was to her,” he said, and didn’t understand it would put a younger, junior co-worker in “an uncomfortable place.” He said he’d “reflected deeply and have been working hard to address the attitudes that led me, at the time, to think this was acceptable.”
Henein, too, offered instruction on how the court and public should see her client through a more generous lens in her “final thoughts,” remarks that echoed her statements in an April interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. She told Mansbridge of how her client “had his life turned upside down and it has been a painful and difficult process” and hinted at the transformative nature of the process Ghomeshi had been through: “When you come out on the other side of [a criminal trial], it is something that you carry with you always.” Today she spoke of Ghomeshi’s legal battle as singular in her 25-year career: “The last 18 months are one of the most difficult I have witnessed anyone ever having to withstand. I do not think many of us would have been able to do so. But he was.” She spoke of a rehabilitated Ghomeshi, even though today’s proceedings involved no admission of guilt or any wrongdoing: as such, she has adroitly led her client from criminal charges and public ignominy to the road of redemption without ever having to stop and linger at “Sorry, yes I did it.” “He has taken this time to reflect in a meaningful and sincere way,” Henein said in court today. “His apology demonstrates that.” It’s time to look away from Ghomeshi, Henein instructed, taking a swipe at the reporters behind her: “While this matter has consumed the attention of so many, there are many equally important matters in this country that the public wants to know about and that I hope we can now turn our attention to.”
Outside Old City Hall, as a small group of protesters stood on the sidelines (“Peace bonds don’t give survivors peace,” one sign read), Kathryn Borel made it clear she wasn’t about to look away. In a strongly worded statement that was unsparing of the CBC and its institutional inattention to her plight, Borel pointed out that Ghomeshi “originally denied all charges against him”—but had now admitted to wrongdoing and apologized. She explained that she had been willing to forgo trial in return for the defence’s offer of a public apology: “It seemed like the clearest path to the truth,” she says. “A trial would have maintained his lie, the lie that he was not guilty, and it would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I’m currently trying to stop.”
Today’s outcome now serves as a litmus test, interpreted vastly differently depending on who you talk to. Some commentators see it as the Crown folding, an admission their case was weak. Others see it as driven by Ghomeshi’s team because it avoids the risks of a second trial while offering a redemptive apology that’s not an apology at all. Then there are those who see it as a moral victory for Borel.
Undoubtedly, for Ghomeshi, this new humble posture are the first steps in his public rehabilitation. As for Borel, she’s pushing that moral standard farther: Ghomeshi hasn’t taken full responsibility, she said this morning; he “hasn’t met any of their allegations head on, as he vowed to do in his Facebook post of 2014. He hasn’t taken the stand on any charge. All he has said about his other accusers is that they’re all lying and that he’s not guilty. And remember: that’s what he said about me.” Apologizing to her isn’t enough, Borel said, noting that more than 20 women have come forward with allegations of against Ghomeshi: “There will be no resolution until admits to everything that he’s done.”
And so the morning ended: with the disconnect between the court of law and court of public opinion more pronounced than it was on day one. And that’s the gap that the Ghomeshi redemption tour will have to ultimately bridge, or not.