NEWS

Jian Ghomeshi Trial: Spotlight Returns To Ex-CBC Host As Verdict Looms

03/22/2016 01:49 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 05:12 EDT
TORONTO — More than a month after the sexual assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi captured the country's attention, the spotlight is set to fall once again on the disgraced broadcaster and his accusers as an Ontario judge delivers his decision this week.

Regardless of the outcome, a number of observers believe Ghomeshi's case has already had an impact on the reporting of sexual assaults and the public's understanding of how they are prosecuted.

"People were talking about something quite serious that our society needs to learn more about," said Constance Backhouse, a University of Ottawa law professor who researches sexual assault legislation. "It's really important to have conversations to discuss issues of sexual assault, consent, the role of the criminal law in assessing this ... Here we brought all of these things to the fore."

ghomeshi lawyer

Jian Ghomeshi leaves with co-counsel Danielle Robitaille (left) and lawyer Marie Henein on February 11. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Ghomeshi — the once popular host of CBC Radio's "Q'' — pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

He didn't testify in his own defence, leaving the bulk of evidence at the trial to come from the three women whose allegations formed the bedrock of the case.

The first complainant testified that Ghomeshi suddenly yanked on her hair when they were kissing in his car in late 2002. A few days later, she said he abruptly pulled her hair while they were kissing in his home and started punching her in the head.

The second complainant, actress Lucy DeCoutere — the only woman who can be identified in the case — testified Ghomeshi suddenly pushed her against a wall, started choking her and slapped her face when they were kissing in his bedroom in the summer of 2003.

"The present criminal process is not appropriate for cases of sexual assault."

The third woman testified that while kissing Ghomeshi on a park bench in 2003, he suddenly bit her shoulder and started squeezing her neck.

Each woman had her testimony methodically dissected by Ghomeshi's high-profile defence lawyer, Marie Henein, who ultimately accused all three of lying under oath.

While Henein's cross-examination led to some dramatic moments, most observers agreed she was going about her job without fault.

"Within the parameters of our existing law, her cross-examination was an excellent one," said Backhouse. "The parameters of our existing law, our presumptions and our focus on women as false testifiers, do I think that's fair? No, I don't. But within the parameters of the law I'm not going to fault Henein."

With the first complainant, Henein produced friendly emails, including one with a bikini photo that the woman sent to Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults, asking the broadcaster to contact her. The woman said she didn't remember the emails when she spoke to police, but said she sent them as "bait" so she could confront Ghomeshi about the alleged assaults.

ghomeshi

Ghomeshi — the once popular host of CBC Radio's "Q'' — pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. (The Canadian Press)

In DeCoutere's case, Henein showed the court an email DeCoutere sent Ghomeshi hours after the alleged incident in which she expressed a desire to have sex with him. Henein also produced a hand-written letter the actress sent him days later that ended with the words: "I love your hands." DeCoutere emphasized the correspondence didn't mean the alleged assaults didn't happen.

The third complainant acknowledged she deliberately misled investigators by not initially telling them she had a sexual encounter with Ghomeshi a few days after the alleged assault. She said she was embarrassed and didn't think it was relevant, but told police about it days before she testified.

Henein also revealed that the third woman and DeCoutere exchanged thousands of messages in which they discussed their allegations and their shared contempt for Ghomeshi.

The reams of correspondence between the third complainant and DeCoutere in particular appeared to undermine the prosecution's case, one legal observer said.

"The independence of witnesses is paramount in any trial, and Lucy and the other complainant, by them speaking so much and the sort of gratuitous comments like 'we got him,' takes away the legitimacy of the allegations," said lawyer Marcy Segal. "There should never be collusion. There did not need to be that type of in-depth communication between them."

Trial's effects on future complainants

Segal also warned against concluding that Crown prosecutors failed to adequately prepare for the case as much of the complainant's post-alleged-assault contact with Ghomeshi was only revealed once the trial had begun.

"The expectations of the public towards the Crown, in my view, were unfair," she said, noting that the legal system in general could improve to better prepare complainants for what's expected of them and could move to require police to check in with complainants about a month before trials.

For those who routinely deal with victims of sexual assault, however, the trial — with its intense scrutiny on the women —was seen as one which will deter future complainants from coming forward.

"It's going to make women feel even more reluctant than they already feel about reporting to police or proceeding to a criminal trial and that's unfortunate because in our society, the ultimate accountability for this kind of behaviour is to be found through the criminal law," said Pamela Cross, legal director at Luke's Place Support and Resource Centre for Women.

"The present criminal process is not appropriate for cases of sexual assault."

Also on HuffPost

Jian Ghomeshi Case: A Timeline