How the CBC Let Us Down in the Wake of Jian Ghomeshi Scandal

I was at the CBC when the Ghomeshi scandal broke and got an inside view of its institutional failures.

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May 11 2016, 4:22pm

These guys weren't the only ones scrambling to remove any trace of Ghomeshi after the scandal broke. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

I was working from home that Friday in October almost two years ago when a flurry of texts from colleagues at the CBC started blowing up my phone. The missives were mostly questions about how much information any of us had—could we fill in the blanks, did we know what was really going on. But the common thread in every message was the acknowledgement that the things we'd been whispering about, the public secrets we'd all been sort of keeping might actually be true. Because even though at that point we didn't know much, we knew.

But we had no idea how horrifying those allegations would end up being, that they'd happened in our hallways, in our studios, to our friends and colleagues and ultimately on the corporation's watch. The gossip turned to revulsion and then turned to rage.

I started at the CBC at 23, very young and very hopeful. I believed (and still do) in the power of public broadcasting and in the place the institution holds in our collective history. It was for so many of us, one of the few places that welcomed freaks and geeks looking for a steady paycheque, that supported our creative quirks and wanted us to be challenging—to ourselves and to each other. And I spent the next ten years doing just that throughout the corporation. But ultimately, it let me down. It let the group of smart, funny, wildly creative employees who worked to support Jian Ghomeshi down. It let the countless women who claim he violated them down.

It let my friend Kathryn Borel down.

Borel addresses Ghomeshi and the CBC on the courthouse steps. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

For a lot of us these last (almost) two years have been coloured by a series of disappointments, by breathless moments that seemed on the precipice of bearing real change but were ultimately fruitless. As women who have experienced intimate violence in our lives we anxiously hoped this would be our watershed moment, where we could have constructive, inclusive conversations about assault, survivors and a system that is ill-designed to support us. It wasn't.

As women in the media, we nervously anticipated the structural rethink that would come from the frank conversations we were starting to have with each other about institutional sexism and the ways in which we maintain damaging power structures. It never came.

As CBCers we took our feelings of anger and betrayal to meetings and held out hope that the company's internal investigation and resulting 'Rubin Report' would reshape our star systems and our unbalanced, dehumanizing approach to who is valued and who is not. It didn't. The corporation had a rare opportunity to reflect on its mistakes as a whole but chose instead to cauterize its parts, blaming a diseased limb even though much of the body was toxic.

The entire country watched as they wasted the chance to prove that the tide really had turned for those who abuse position and power. His profile was unparalleled in Canadian media but he was certainly not alone in taking advantage of his place in the fucked up ladder of success. This story felt bigger than just one man or one company, it was a brief moment in time when all organizations (CBC is hardly alone in creating imbalanced power dynamics that put the onus on precariously employed young people rather than on the managers tasked with keeping them safe) could have turned inward and demanded change and chose not to.

Today, Jian Ghomeshi apologized to Kathryn Borel in court, however hollow it may be. But she has yet to receive a public apology from the CBC, from the managers who continuously facilitated his abuse, from the union that heard her complaints and did nothing.

Nor has Ghomeshi apologized for what happened to Linda Redgrave, Lucy DeCoutere, the third survivor who testified against him or the countless other women who will never have their day in court because his star power was more important than their humanity.

It's hard to look back on what's happened with this case and not feel frustrated, heartbroken, and exhausted. Throughout these last 18 months we've spent an inordinate amount of time talking about sea change and tipping points only to be left wanting.

But we have the opportunity to not let this conversation die here. Rape culture is real and the ways in which our institutions perpetuate it has been clearly laid out for you since October 24, 2014. Our corporations are not designed to protect or even empower our most vulnerable workers. Our media is still struggling to accurately name the ways in which we fail women and survivors, more interested in redacted bikini photos than how violence alters our psychology and our legal system is not yet equipped to represent the nuances of abuse.

The threads have unravelled, let's pull them bare.

*Update: While they have yet to publicly address their role in Kathryn Borel's assault, internal CBC memos sent out today continue to tout the work of the Rubin Report and the 'headway' they've made on their corporate culture.

*Update 2: Several hours after her public statement (and this piece) CBC has issued an apology to Borel from their head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson.

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