More than a year and a half after allegations surfaced that painted Jian Ghomeshi as serially abusive to women, the former CBC host walked out of a Toronto courtroom a free man.
But Wednesday, for the first time throughout this entire legal ordeal, Ghomeshi, 48, directly addressed the allegations against him in an apology to Kathryn Borel, his former CBC colleague whose complaint was to be subject of a sexual assault trial next month. Because he apologized and signed a peace bond ordering him to stay away from Borel for a year and not possess weapons, the Crown prosecutor withdrew the sexual assault charge, ensuring Ghomeshi won't receive a criminal record.
"I want to apologize to Ms. Borel for my behavior toward her in the workplace," Ghomeshi said aloud in court. "In the last eighteen months, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on this incident and the difficulties I caused Ms. Borel, and I've had to come to terms with my own deep regret and embarrassment."
Ghomeshi also said he had a position of "privilege" as the host of Q and that his behavior was "sexually inappropriate." A letter from Ghomeshi's therapist detailing the extent of the psychotherapy he's undergone in the last 18 months was also submitted to court.
Outside the courthouse, Borel told dozens of reporters she thought a peace bond with an apology "seemed like the clearest path to the truth."
She then gave troubling details about the nature of her relationship with Ghomeshi while she worked at CBC from 2007 to 2010 as a producer on Q, the radio show Ghomeshi hosted at the time he was fired.
She alleged that in February 2008, he came up behind her at work and "rammed his pelvis against my backside over and over, simulating sexual intercourse." While that incident sparked the sex assault charge, Borel said Ghomeshi humiliated her daily with verbal and emotional assaults, and on at least three occasions, physically touched her.
"Mr. Ghomeshi made it clear to me that he could do what he wanted to me and my body," she said. "He made it clear that he could humiliate me repeatedly and walk away with impunity."
Borel said no action was taken when she went to the CBC for help, largely because of his status there.
"What I received in return was a directive that yes, he could do this, and yes, it was my job to let him. The relentless message to me, from my celebrity boss and from the national institution we worked for, was that his whims were more important than my humanity or my dignity," she said.
Up until Borel spoke to police in December 2014, she said she didn't realize what had happened to her was considered sexual assault; she said she'd come to believe she deserved his behavior.
"That is what Jian Ghomeshi just apologized for: the crime of sexual assault," she said. "This is a story of a man who had immense power over me and my livelihood, admitting that he chronically abused his power and violated me in ways that violate the law."
Borel said her claims have been corroborated by witnesses and reports. Another former CBC producer, Roberto Veri, has publicly said he witnessed the pelvic thrusting incident while an inquiry into CBC workplace culture found Ghomeshi created a hostile work environment that was condoned by management.
She finished her statement by saying in a perfect world, men like Ghomeshi would be convicted of the crimes they committed, but she believed a trial would only have "maintained his lie." His apology, she noted, didn't extend to the more than 20 women who came forward and accused him of punching, choking, and slapping them.
"Mr. Ghomeshi hasn't met any of their allegations head on, as he vowed to do in his Facebook post from 2014," Borel said. "He hasn't taken the stand on any charge. All he's 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."
Ghomeshi's lawyer, Marie Henein, told the court she's never "had a client be the subject of such an unrelenting public scrutiny and focus." The last 18 months for Ghomeshi have been the most difficult she's ever had to witness someone withstand, she said, adding that by apologizing, Ghomeshi has "done everything the Crown and courts have asked him to do."
"It is my sincerest hope that with the conclusion of this proceeding, Mr. Ghomeshi can move forward. On a personal level, it is my equally sincere hope that the Canadian public can now move forward."
Ghomeshi did not take the witness stand during his February sex assault trial involving three additional complainants. He was later acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking, with Justice William Horkins citing issues about credibility and reliability of the witnesses in his judgment.
Reached by email, one of them, Linda Redgrave, who accused Ghomeshi of pulling her hair and punching her in the head over two separate occasions, told VICE the peace bond resolution "saddens me to no end"
"This woman will not get her day in court, will not be able to at least try to get justice from this man, and it sends a message to others that it's just not worth the effort to report if the case is not taken seriously," she said.
She also said Ghomeshi's apology was not done out of sincerity, but "to avoid jail time."
"Still, I would like him to apologize to me, Lucy [DeCoutere], and witness number three, and all the other women he has hurt who have been too fearful of our unjust system to come forward."
When the Ghomeshi allegations first broke, as a result of a Toronto Star investigation, many were hopeful it would become a watershed moment for survivors of sexual assault. Hashtags like #WeBelieveSurvivors, #BeenRapedNeverReported, and #IBelieveLucy took off, sparking countless discussions about violence against women and barriers against reporting these incidents to authorities.
But Redgrave, who has started www.comingforward.ca to help sex assault complainants navigate legal waters, said Ghomeshi's trial only highlighted an unfair criminal justice system.
"Judges should specialize in sexual assault cases and have clear understanding about how victims act and react and how memory and trauma play out," she said.
Anu Dugal, director of violence prevention at the Canadian Women's Foundation, told VICE the Ghomeshi case made it "brutally clear" the survivor is not represented in the legal process. Dugal pointed to Horkins's judgment, in which he accused all three women of lying and questioned their post-assault behavior, as evidence that witnesses are re-victimized during trial.
However, a recent Canadian Women's Foundation survey showed two out of three Canadians believe sexual assault claims are true, which Dugal said is an encouraging stat.
"In spite of a not guilty verdict, women are still being believed," she said. "There are certainly disappointments about this case as a watershed moment, [but] there are plenty of questions out there that are begging for answers that have to be addressed."
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