sex assault

Jian Ghomeshi Accuser Wants Judges to Reconsider How They Evaluate the Credibility of Witnesses

Linda Redgrave wants the impact of trauma on memory to be factored into judgments.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
May 1, 2017, 7:35pm
Linda Redgrave testified at Jian Ghomeshi's sex assault trial. Canadian Press/Colin Perkel

At the conclusion of Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault trial, Judge William Horkins delivered a blunt indictment of the three witnesses who testified against the former CBC host, pointing to inconsistencies in their testimonies.

Of the first witness, Linda Redgrave, who accused Ghomeshi of pulling her hair and punching her in the head, Horkins said she used an "evolving set of facts" while telling her story, and that her memory of Ghomeshi's yellow Volkswagen Bug was "simply, and demonstrably, wrong." (Canadaland later reported that Ghomeshi did drive a yellow Volkswagen at the time the alleged assaults took place, though he didn't purchase a Bug until later.) Ghomeshi was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking.

Now Redgrave is calling for an overhaul in how judges evaluate a complainant's' credibility and ability to remember events.

Redgrave and lawyer Helgi Maki made the recommendations in a submission related to Bill C-337, a private member's bill tabled by interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose that would require new judges to be comprehensively trained in issues relating to sexual assault.

The bill has has been sent to committee and has received support from all major political parties.

Redgrave made the submission on behalf of her non-profit organization Coming Forward, which aims to help sex assault survivors navigate the criminal justice system.

In it, she made several key recommendations including training on the neurobiological impact of trauma.

"Not all judges are aware that the non-linear memory or memory gaps that can result from traumatic incidents such as sexual assault can lead to either complex, non-linear witness narratives about crime in the courtroom," Redgrave wrote in her submission.

During Ghomeshi's trial, Redgrave said she'd forgotten about an email she sent Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults, in which she'd included a bikini photo of herself. The email was revealed by Ghomeshi's lawyer Marie Henein under cross-examination. However, Horkins said he didn't believe Redgrave could have forgotten such a detail and that sending the email was inconsistent with the trauma she described experiencing at the hands of Ghomeshi.

After the trial Redgrave said she felt the judge's ruling was "condescending."

"He indirectly called us liars, like 'You naughty girls, what were you thinking?" Redgrave told the Toronto Star. "He could have come to the 'not guilty' in a much more respectful way to women. He's not just talking to us, he's talking to all survivors of sexual abuse."

She said Bill C-337 could dispel rape myths pertaining to victim behaviour during and after an assault. For example, not all victims will fight back during an assault, and afterwards, they may not exhibit emotion.

The bill comes in light of controversial sex assault rulings, including an acquittal by former Federal Court Justice Robin Camp who asked a complainant why she didn't keep her "knees together." Camp resigned after a panel with the Canadian Judicial Council recommended he be fired.

If passed into law, the bill will also require the Canadian Judicial Council to report on continuing education seminars in matters related to sexual assault law and amend the Criminal Code to require a court to provide written reasons in sexual assault decisions.

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