Ghomeshi verdict anything but clear-cut
The Jian Ghomeshi trial was many things. But one thing is clear about the verdict: it is unsatisfying on many fronts. Not because there is anything wrong with the judge’s decision, but because it leaves so much room for misinterpretation and spin by those who feel passionately about this issue. And there are many who do.
There are those who say all who claim they’ve been sexually assaulted are to be believed, regardless of their story or circumstance. And there are those who believe women must be liars, or they obviously wanted it or had it coming to them ( just look at how they were dressed, they say, or how much they had to drink …).
Despite how it feels, this trial was not about the broader issue of sexual assault - it was about one accused and three alleged victims and was tried on the merits of these specific complaints. And unfortunately, this case was anything but clearcut.
The judge did not say nothing inappropriate happened. He ruled that reasonable doubt exists about the claims that events took place against the will of complainants. In part, he ruled that way because all three victims said and withheld things that seriously damaged their credibility, and undermined the Crown’s case. There was relevant information withheld until the last minute. There was contradictory and outright incorrect information offered as testimony. And there was collusion between at least two of the complainants in which they agreed to “sink” Ghomeshi.
There is no doubt the intentions of most people protesting the Ghomeshi outcome are honourable. But we can’t make the mistake of concluding this case is typical. It is not. It is, however, a valuable opportunity to examine how we can make the system better for the victims of sexual assault.
How? Some advocate for separate courts with appropriate specialized training for personnel involved. Others call for a system where those accused of sexual assault are compelled to testify and be cross-examined. And still others advocate for free legal advice to victims.
And what of Ghomeshi? He was found not guilty, which is not necessarily the same as being innocent. Those two things should not be confused. There is enough information about him that could indicate the sort of person he may be. It’s not flattering.
Sexual assault is a huge problem in our society. Far too few victims come forward, in large part because they feel like the accused rather than accuser. Women must feel comfortable coming forward. They should not have to live in fear of their partners. And men who harm women should be punished for it.
This trial and outcome have not helped us toward those objectives - which remain what we must strive for as a civil and equitable society.