Jian Ghomeshi Acquitted in Sexual Assault Trial

Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking.

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Mar 24 2016, 2:45pm


Jian Ghomeshi is escorted by police out of court past members of the media in Toronto on November 26, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking.

In a bluntly-worded decision released Thursday, Ontario Court Judge William Horkins said there were serious questions raised about the credibility and reliability of the three women who testified during Ghomeshi's February trial, and ultimately, the allegations against him could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Horkins said the judgment of the case rested entirely on the reliability and credibility of each witness. His judgment repeatedly criticized the women for not being entirely truthful and said it was a dangerous assumption to assume sexual assault complainants are always truthful.

The case, heard by a judge only, marked one of the most high-profile sexual assault trials in recent Canadian history. It hinged on allegations that were said to have taken place between 2002 and 2003. All three women were in court Thursday.

Ghomeshi's three accusers came forward to police after he was fired from his job hosting CBC radio show Q in October 2014. In a subsequent Toronto Star investigation, at least eight women accused Ghomeshi of sexual and physical abuse and harassment.

"It's fair to say by 2014 Mr. Ghomeshi had received celebrity status... then suddenly the CBC terminated him," Horkins said Thursday.

The three complainants testified during an eight-day period in early February.

The first witness, whose name is protected under a publication ban, said she met Ghomeshi while she was catering a CBC Christmas party he attended in December 2002. They flirted, she said, and he invited her to watch a taping of Play, the show he was hosting at the time. She followed through on his invitation the following month; after the taping, the witness told the court she and Ghomeshi grabbed a drink. When they got into his car—one she described as a yellow Volkswagen bug—she said they started kissing, and he reached behind her head and grabbed her hair "really hard." She said Ghomeshi then "switched back to the nice guy" he was before the incident, and she agreed to see him again. The third time they met up, the witness said she went to another taping of Play with a girlfriend. She told the court her friend left, and she accompanied Ghomeshi back to his Riverdale home. Once there, she testified they started making out, at one point standing up. Ghomeshi then grabbed her hair "really hard" again and brought her to her knees, she told the court, before punching her in the side of the head.

She said she started crying, and Ghomeshi told her she should leave.

The witness testified that she did not contact Ghomeshi after the second alleged assault took place. That statement—one she made repeatedly under cross-examination by Ghomeshi's lawyer Marie Henein—proved false when Henein produced an email that the witness sent Ghomeshi in January 2004. In it, she said she'd been watching Ghomeshi on Screw the Vote and hoped all was well. She also attached a photo of herself wearing a red bikini.

The judge said the photo was at odds with her testimony. "It reveals conduct completely inconsistent with her assertion that the mere thought of Ghomeshi traumatized her," he said.

Henein had accused the witness of lying, but the witness claimed she'd forgotten sending the email. She said she was using it to "bait" Ghomeshi.

"I wanted Jian to call me so I could ask him why did he violently punch me in the head."

Protestors outside of the courthouse awaiting the outcome of the Ghomeshi trial. Photo by Hilary Beaumont

Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere was the next witness to testify; she was the only one to waive the publication ban on her identity.

DeCoutere said she met Ghomeshi at the Banff World Television Festival in June 2003 and a month later came to Toronto to visit him (she was living in Halifax at the time). They went out for dinner, she said, and then back to his place where, while showing her around, she alleges he slapped and choked her.

"We were outside of his closet, he started kissing me, and he took me by the throat and pushed me against the wall, cutting off my breath," DeCoutere told the court at the time, noting he slapped her three times.

Afterward, she said she stayed to be polite, but came away from that weekend certain there was no romantic future for her and Ghomeshi. The following year at the same TV festival, she said Ghomeshi came onstage during her karaoke performance to sing Britney Spears's "Hit Me Baby One More Time" as a duet.

Under cross-examination, Henein grilled DeCoutere about whether or not she'd been absolutely forthcoming to police and court about all of her correspondences with Ghomeshi. DeCoutere said she had. Henein produced a series of emails dated after the alleged assault took place in which DeCoutere came across as friendly with Ghomeshi, asking him to hang out if they were in the same place. One of them, written the day after she was allegedly choked and slapped, said, "You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to fuck your brains out tonight."

Henein then read aloud a "love letter" DeCoutere had written Ghomeshi after the alleged assault took place in which she described Ghomeshi as "sparkling" and said she'd had a great time in Toronto. It was signed off, "I love your hands. Lucy."

In court, DeCoutere said she was being overly affectionate because she wanted to "normalize" her relationship with Ghomeshi. But Henein claimed the evidence showed "what happened was no sexual assault."

Horkins said the cross examination showed "serious problems" with DeCoutere's testimony. He also said DeCoutere was not honest with police.

Before taking the stand, the third witness, who alleged Ghomeshi bit her shoulder and put his hands on her neck while they were making out in a Toronto park, made an amendment to her statement. She revealed to the Crown that she had given Ghomeshi a hand job after the alleged attack. She admitted, when asked by Henein, that she'd been "deliberately misleading" by originally neglecting to tell investigators about the consensual sexual encounter.

As part of Ghomeshi's defense, Henein also produced thousands of messages DeCoutere and the third witness exchanged, alluding to collusion. In the messages, the women discussed how much they hated Ghomeshi.

Horkins said the pair were trying to take down Ghomeshi and used a "crude vernacular."

In his closing statement, Crown Counsel Michael Callaghan said the women shouldn't be judged for their behavior after the alleged assaults took place and that it's believable their memories were spotty due to the historical nature of the alleged incidents and the fact that they were traumatic in nature.

Henein countered by saying the trial was not about victim-blaming or flaws in the criminal justice system's treatment of sex assault victims, but about lying.

The evidence presented by the Crown was "so riddled with inconsistencies" that it wouldn't be enough to prove anything, she said. "There is not an expert that will testify that perjury is indicative of trauma."

Ghomeshi will face another sex assault trial in June, this one involving a former colleague who worked with him on Q.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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