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I Believe Survivors: Reflections On The Ghomeshi Verdict

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CRIMINAL JUSTICE
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Last week in one of the most followed cases of the year, Mr. Ghomeshi was found not guilty on all charges related to sexual violence. Before anything, I would like to speak to the survivors of this case and all women who have been subject to sexual violence. While I respect the rule of law and the legitimacy of our criminal justice system, I recognize that sometimes the difference between the legal guilt and factual guilt is pronounced.

Therefore, I am of the firm belief that yesterday's result shall not in any way undermine or repudiate the reality of what has happened to you. I believe you -- and thank you for inspiring us with your courage by coming forward to tell your story and to fight for the belief that no matter how many years have passed, or how wealthy or well-respected the abuser is, sexual violence will not be tolerated in Canada. Thank you for leading the way.

The significance of this trial goes well beyond any conviction or acquittal. Mr. Ghomeshi's case has sent us all a clear message that there are serious flaws in the way that we deal with sexual assault cases. And of course the problem does not only lie within our criminal justice system. Let us not forget that our criminal justice system is founded upon the principles of fundamental justice as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

In Canada, we firmly believe in the presumption of innocence as it is a fundamental human right and indispensable for preventing wrongful convictions and upholding justice. However, it is the time to acknowledge that if our criminal justice system does not adapt itself to the reality of cases like this, its legitimacy will be undermined in the eyes of Canadians. Our justice system gains its legitimacy by being effective and fair; and fairness needs to extend to both survivors and offenders.

This case clearly showed us that our system is not easy to navigate for the survivors of sexual assaults, who already feel traumatized by the experience. We should ask ourselves: How much support and information is provided to the survivors during the process?

Are the survivors usually aware of the realities of an adversarial system?

Do sexual assault survivors understand what a true cross-examination entails before being subject to vigorous questioning?

Do they fully appreciate the Crown's duty of full disclosure?

Or the high standard of beyond reasonable doubt?

We cannot expect the survivors to trust our system of justice if it is not easily accessible to them; if they do not know how to use it; and if they do not know who to turn to when they are in need.

Do we need more resources to support and educate survivors? Should we move away from our adversarial system? Do we need to lower the standard of proof? Should the accused be compelled to testify? These are all questions where the answers are not easily attainable. One thing though is certain; the status quo is not good enough and the numbers attest to that.

• 1 in 4 women in North American will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
• Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
• Only 1 - 2% of "date rape" sexual assaults are reported to the police
• 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
• 57% of Indigenous women have been sexually abused

The numbers are alarming. Now, we all have a duty to bring change and our duty goes well beyond the criminal justice system. We have a duty to empower survivors. We should work to overcome the obstacles that prevent survivors to talk freely and openly about sexual assaults.

We have to create a culture that allows women to speak up without the fear of being judged by a society that is still filled with stereotypes. We need to instill confidence in survivors. They should be able to stand up and talk -- not just in courtrooms, but in police stations, campuses, schools, and workplaces. Mr. Ghomeshi's case is just a beginning for us. We should all act.

In the words of the Honourable L'Heureux-Dubé: "Violence against women is as much a matter of equality as it is an offence against human dignity and a violation of human rights."

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