Mcgill stu­dents, Mon­treal­ers de­bate and protest Ghome­shi ver­dict

De­mon­stra­tors de­cry lack of sup­port for sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault

The McGill Daily - - News - Paniz Khos­roshahy & Romita Sur The Mcgill Daily

In re­sponse to the March 24 ver­dict where for­mer CBC ra­dio broad­caster Jian Ghome­shi was ac­quit­ted of four counts of sex­ual as­sault and one count of chok­ing, sev­eral groups at Mcgill and in the broader Mon­treal com­mu­nity or­ga­nized events to dis­cuss and protest the ver­dict.

Ethics in crim­i­nal sex­ual as­sault tri­als

On March 29, Mcgill Law stu­dents Anna Goldfinch and Nazam­pal Jaswal hosted a panel called “Be­yond Ghome­shi: Cre­at­ing Eth­i­cal Prac­tices in Crim­i­nal Sex­ual As­sault Tri­als.” The panel fea­tured crown prose­cu­tor Sara Hen­nings­son, crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer Suzanne Cos­tom, Con­stance Back­house, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ottawa, and Toronto-based com­mu­nity ac­tivist, sup­port worker, and artist Chenthoori Malankov. The panel was mod­er­ated by Alana Klein, a crim­i­nal law pro­fes­sor at the Mcgill Fac­ulty of Law.

Hen­nings­son said that “the [Ghome­shi] trial re­ceived so much at­ten­tion that it is dif­fi­cult to plow through and pros­e­cute the case.”

In the ver­dict, Jus­tice Wil­liam Horkins ques­tioned the three com­plainants’ cred­i­bil­ity and said they were “less than full, frank and forth­com­ing” in their ver­sion of events. At the panel, Cos­tom ar­gued that “com­plainants, if caught in a lie, throw their whole tes­ti­mony into doubt, even if it is about some­thing as small as the weather.”

Black­house, a le­gal his­to­rian, sug­gested that the scru­tiny of the com­plainants’ cred­i­bil­ity was mo­ti­vated by sex­ist norms of dis­be­lief to­wards sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault. “We still search for the ‘wor­thy vic­tim,’ but it is now masked in the lan­guage of cred­i­bil­ity,” she said. “Our deeply sex­ist cul­ture is reach­ing back into his­tory.”

While dis­cus­sions of the fairness of the ver­dict have been po­lar­iz­ing, Goldfinch told The Daily that “there aren’t ac­tu­ally ‘sides’ to this is­sue per se, but rather com­plex so­ci­etal is­sues and a crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that is not al­ways equipped to ac­knowl­edge and ad­dress these is­sues. Law can be overly clin­i­cal some­times, and it can for­get to ad­dress his­tor­i­cal con­text, or is­sues of sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion, and trauma.”

She con­tin­ued, “This is why in ad­di­tion to bring­ing in lawyers who prac­tice crim­i­nal law, we also brought a le­gal his­to­rian and a com­mu­nity ac­tivist and sup­port worker to hu­man­ize the dis­cus­sion.”

Jaswal told The Daily in an in­ter­view, “It was im­por­tant for me to come into the space want­ing to learn. While the panel dis­cus­sions were go­ing on, I was con­fronted with points of view and in­for­ma­tion about the re­al­i­ties of the court process that I hadn’t con­sid­ered. Hear­ing a range of per­spec­tives, I now feel bet­ter equipped to en­ter into this dis­cus­sion my­self.”

Demon­stra­tion at Mcgill

On March 31, the Sex­ual As­sault Cen­tre of Mcgill Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety (SACOMSS), as part of its an­nual Sex­ual As­sault Aware­ness Week, or­ga­nized a demon­stra­tion in sup­port of sur­vivors as a re­sponse to the Ghome­shi trial. Held in Com­mu­nity Square, the de­mon- stra­tion aimed to cre­ate a space to dis­cuss the fail­ure of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and the Mcgill ad­min­is­tra­tion to sup­port sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault.

On the Face­book event page for the demon­stra­tion, the or­ga­niz­ers wrote, “In the wake of the Ghome­shi trial, we are re­minded that our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, and our so­ci­ety at large, do not sup­port sur­vivors. We are re­minded that our own univer­sity does not have in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized mech­a­nisms to deal with sex­ual vi­o­lence, nor has com­mit­ted to the pro-sur­vivor, in­ter­sec­tional sup­port we need.”

Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) VP Univer­sity Af­fairs Chloe Rourke spoke about the Univer­sity’s lack of co­op­er­a­tion with re­gard to the Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Pol­icy, for­merly known as the Sex­ual As­sault Pol­icy.

“No mat­ter how many ar­ti­cles are writ­ten, no mat­ter how many stu­dent lead­ers speak up, no mat­ter how much re­search we show them, it seems that they still refuse to lis­ten, and that is so in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing to me,” Rourke said.

She con­tin­ued, “We shouldn’t need a pub­lic scan­dal to hap­pen [for sur­vivors] to be lis­tened to. And we don’t want change that comes from harm. We want change and we want it now.”

Sara Sebti, an Ira­nian Mcgill stu­dent who at­tended the demo, noted that Ghome­shi is Ira­nian, but that the Ira­nian com­mu­nity has been silent on Ghome­shi’s ac­tions. In an email to The Daily Sebti spoke of grap­pling with the fact that “the men of colour in my life [...] who were bea­cons of hope for a gen­er­a­tion, si­mul­ta­ne­ously harmed those they loved be­hind closed doors.”

Sebti wrote, “Where do we start, what is the goal, how do I have these con­ver­sa­tions with my fam­ily? I am afraid and at times I feel bit­terly alone.”

“Cry-in” to voice grief for sur­vivors

The same day as the demon­stra­tion, a “cry-in” was held in Phillips Square for peo­ple to voice their grief for the four women who tes­ti­fied against Ghome­shi and all sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault. The event was in­spired by a sim­i­lar cry-in or­ga­nized in New York in March 2015, in hon­our of Ana Mendi­eta, a Cuban-amer­i­can artist. Mendi­eta was al­legedly killed by her hus- band, who was ac­quit­ted based on grounds of “rea­son­able doubt.”

Tessa Liem, an or­ga­nizer of the event, ex­plained to The Daily in an email that the goal of the event was to re­claim cry­ing, typ­i­cally seen as a sign of fem­i­nine weak­ness, as an act of protest and heal­ing. “Our sad­ness is meant to be a form of re­sis­tance. It is also meant to ac­knowl­edge the very real pain of sur­vivors and al­lies,” wrote Liem.

Around 15 peo­ple sat in a semi­cir­cle fac­ing the side­walk at Phillips Square with signs ex­plain­ing their ac­tion. “We were re­ceived pos­i­tively for the most part,” noted Liem. “Passersby shared their own sto­ries with us, two young men sat with us for a few min­utes, an­other man said, ‘it’s not easy what you’re do­ing’ and con­grat­u­lated us.”

“I re­al­ized I didn’t want to cry, I wanted to scream with rage,” Cherie, an­other or­ga­nizer of the event, told The Daily in an in­ter­view. “For me this was the most epic part, and the part that felt the best for me, in terms of get­ting out my feel­ings that were bot­tled up in me. So I just started scream­ing, like rage power hard­core scream­ing and then ev­ery­body was let­ting loose, and it was ric­o­chet­ing off the sky­scrapers.”

“So of­ten we are told that we should be com­posed, ‘keep it to­gether,’ and many of us do com­pose: we write es­says, sto­ries, poems,” said Liem. “But re­ally the event was about ask­ing peo­ple to ac­knowl­edge that these trau­mas are dev­as­tat­ing.”

“We still search for the wor­thy vic­tim, but it is now masked in the lan­guage of cred­i­bil­ity.” Con­stance Black­house, Univer­sity of Ottawa law pro­fes­sor “The men of colour in my life [...] who were bea­cons of hope for a gen­er­a­tion, si­mul­ta­ne­ously harmed those they loved be­hind closed doors.” Sara Sebti, U3 Po­lit­i­cal Science

De­mon­stra­tors show sup­port for sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault. Steven Chua | Pho­tog­ra­pher

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