Recently, a Canadian radio personality Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of sexual assault charges. Following the news, women (and some men) on Twitter accused the Canadian legal system of being anti-women and some even abused Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein. In this post, I will explore the incidents in detail.
In October 2014, Jian Ghomeshi was fired from his job at CBC, where he used to host a show called Q. He had been with CBC for 12 years. The reason for his firing was that Toronto Star had been working on a story based on the allegations from three of his ex-girlfriends, that he had been violent with them without their consent. Some of the allegations dated back to 2002. After Ghomeshi was fired, the story was published. Ghomeshi maintained that although he liked rough sex, he had always done it after getting consent. He claimed that these were lies being spread by his jilted ex-girlfriends. By late October 2014, Toronto Star was claiming that at least 8 women had contacted it saying that they had been sexually abused by Ghomeshi. By 6 November 2014, magazines were digging up stories from his college days in the 1990s and claiming that “there had been foreshadowing for years in the circles in which Ghomeshi moved”. Of the 8 cases (15 according to some), three women came forward and filed complaints with the police.
The trial began in February 2016. Ghomesh was represented by noted defence lawyer, Marie Henein. The first woman said she met Ghomeshi at a Christmas party in 2002. She and Ghomeshi were kissing on a couch in his house, when suddenly he pulled her hair, pulled her to her knees, and then punched her on the head repeatedly. Ghomeshi’s layer, Henein, pointed out that the woman had sent a flirty email to Ghomeshi with a bikini picture, after the sexual assault had allegedly taken place. The email correspondence went up to a year after the supposed crime. The woman had previously testified that she had no contact with Ghomeshi after the sexual assault.
The second woman was a TV star, Lucy-Anne DeCoutere. She was the only woman who allowed her identify revealed to the press. She claimed that in July 2003, when she went to Ghomeshi’s house, he slapped her without warning and choked her until she couldn’t breathe. Marie Henein told the court of the flirty emails sent mere hours after the incident to Ghomesh. Henein also pointed out that DeCoutere had maintained contact with Ghomeshi for years after the incident, which included hand-written notes. DeCoutre said that the relationship was platonic and she did not like having negative feelings towards anyone. In 2005, she sent a picture of her fellating a beer bottle to Ghomeshi.
The third woman claimed that Ghomeshi had put his teeth on her and squeezed her neck which they were kissing on a park in 2003. In this case also, Heinen pointed that she had exchanged text messages with Ghomeshi following the incident. Marie Heinen’s smart dissection of the accussers’ statement inevitably brought the focus on her. Everything from her family background, former clients, her style of dressing and her law firm was discussed in the media. A female writer wrote an entire article about her high heels. Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s case, which was obviously full of holes, was falling apart.
On 24 March 2016, the judge declared Ghomeshi to be not guilty. The judge said that prosecutor had completely relied on the witnesses’ testimonies and had no other evidence, “There is no other evidence to look to determine the truth. There is no tangible evidence. There is no DNA. There is no ‘smoking gun’.” The judge also pointed to the inconsistencies in the testimonies. I seemed to me that even if the incidents had happened, women did not consider them a crime or serious enough to be reported at that time. But later, they changed their minds.
After the verdict, Ghomeshi’s sister Jila gave a statement, “We are relieved but not surprised by the court decision today. It can only be surprising to those who rushed to judgement before the trial had started and before a single word of evidence had been heard.”
A group of activists arrived chanting “We believe survivors”. A topless activist with “Women declare Ghomeshi guilty” written on her body was arrested by the police.
Another case from a single complaint will go to trial in June 2016. Ghomeshi may or may not be held guilty in that one.
As soon as the news of the verdict was released, many Canadian women (and some men) on the Twitter were outraged. They proclaimed that despite the non-existence evidence, based on the shady testimonies alone, Ghomeshi should have been held guilty. Soon #Ghomeshi and #IBelieveSurvivors were trending on Twitter in Canada. In this post, I will examine some of the tweets that caught my attention.
Tweets claiming that the verdict will discourage victims from coming forward.
A lot of women were concerned less about the actual verdict and more concerned about the impact of the verdict. They were not interested in establishing the facts at all. If they had the means, they would have held Ghomeshi guilty, merely so as not to discourage future victims from coming forward. They perhaps believe that any man accused of sexual assault should held guilty, only so that future victims do not feel discouraged.
Tweets claiming that the Canadian justice system is broken.
There were also a lot of tweets claiming that Ghomeshi was acquitted because the legal system of Canada is broken. I had trouble understanding what they meant by that. I also read some of the links shared by them, but they all talked about suggested reforms like free legal counsel for women and separate courts. Some of them argued that testifying in front of their attacker is traumatising for the victims. But none of them exactly explained how in this particular case, the “broken” justice system supposedly let Ghomeshi walk. Unless, the argument is that the accusers forgot that they emailed Ghomeshi for months, by the trauma of facing him in the court.
Tweets attacking the judge.
There were also a lot tweets criticising the judge. Someone were offended by the words he used in the verdict, others argued that he should have upheld the flawed testimonies of the accusers. In an opinion piece in the Times Colonist, two women law professors wrote that they accepted the verdict due to the lack of evidence, but were offended by the words used. The verdict said, “is impossible for the court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants.” The writers argued that judge should not have called them dishonest.
Tweets attacking Ghomeshi’s lawyer.
There were a lot of vitriol filled comments towards Marie Henein. Some pointed out that she had previously defended Michael Byrant in a drunk driving and accidental death case. A lot of tweets however accused Marie Heinen of being a party to injustice and a betrayer of womankind. A blog claimed that it had found that the judge’s son was working with Heinen’s brother in some firm. Thus, there was a conflict of interest and the judge should have excused himself from sitting over the case.
Later in an interview, Heinen defended herself. She said that she found the tweets accusing her of betraying women to be distressing. She also said, “Hashtag I believe is not a legal principle, nor should it ever be.” In a speech at the Young Women in Law gala in Toronto, she said, “Throughout your career in this profession, you will be told what you should do, how you should act, which way you should bend. Do not listen to any of it. Do not be dissuaded by my experience. Do not for a moment be disheartened. I am not.”
Not all tweets.
However, not all tweets were disheartening in this manner.
Some people were disappointed with the verdict but they still understood the importance of evidence.
Not all tweets were hateful of Marie Henein either.
The bottomline is that when a man is accused of sexual assault, everyone will presume him to be guilty. The concept presumption of innocence simply disappears. Anyone remotely associated with him or defending him will be vilified. Canadian men (and men around the world) should try their best to avoid getting entangled in such cases.
I will also write about the next trial of Jian Ghomeshi. In the upcoming weeks, I will write about how the media and society views men accused of sex crimes. Until then, let’s be thankful that the judiciary system is not a democracy run by Twitter Feminists.