A chance at redemption isn’t too much to ask

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - NP - Christie BlatCh­ford cblatch­ford@post­media.com

Jian Ghome­shi was trending on Twit­ter again on Fri­day.

Do peo­ple and things trend there for happy rea­sons? Maybe, some­times. This wasn’t such an oc­ca­sion.

Ghome­shi, the former CBC star who was charged with sex­ual as­sault and then ac­quit­ted, had dared to write, more than two years af­ter he was found not guilty, an es­say about his ex­pe­ri­ence. The New York Re­view of Books had dared to pub­lish it on­line and will pub­lish it Sept. 27 in print.

Twit­ter was out­raged; be­fore the piece was even avail­able on­line, be­fore any­one could read it, the mob was de­nounc­ing it. Peo­ple were en­raged that a) he had been given such a plat­form; and b) that he had availed him­self of it.

It re­minded me of a line in The House of the Far and Lost, a short story by the Amer­i­can novelist Thomas Wolfe.

He was writ­ing about a ru­ined fam­ily called the Coul­sons. His char­ac­ter never knew what the source of their ru­ina­tion was, he said, be­cause no one would speak about it.

“But the sense of their dis­grace, of a shame­ful in­ex­pi­able dis­hon­our, for which there was no par­don, from which there could never be redemption, was over­whelm­ing.”

How is it that there should be no redemption for dis­grace? For Ghome­shi? For some­one who was ac­quit­ted?

The piece it­self, called “Re­flec­tions From A Hash­tag,” is thought­ful, clever, and in places even wry. “There are lots of guys more hated than me now,” he writes. “But I was the guy ev­ery­one hated first.”

And so he was.

His crim­i­nal trial in Fe­bru­ary of 2016 was pre­ceded by more than a year of lurid al­le­ga­tions against him, un­fold­ing in the pages of news­pa­pers, chiefly the Toronto Star, as woman af­ter woman (and even a man) came for­ward with com­plaints.

His fall from grace — his ra­dio show, Q, had been very pop­u­lar and he was in de­mand as a host and speaker — was truly spec­tac­u­lar and he was the first gen­uinely big name in Canada to fall this way, now so fa­mil­iar.

The CBC fired him; the then-Toronto Po­lice chief, Bill Blair, all but pub­licly begged com­plainants to bring their sto­ries to the po­lice; the then-head of the force’s sex crimes unit, who was an ad­her­ent of the #IBelieve move­ment (as she ac- tu­ally said at the time, “We be­lieve vic­tims when they come in, 100%”) wel­comed them with open arms. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the four who came for­ward were treated with kid gloves by de­tec­tives.

Ghome­shi was duly charged with four counts of sex­ual as­sault and one of chok­ing.

But when the trial it­self be­gan, it be­came clear very quickly that the prose­cu­tion had real prob­lems, chiefly that two of the three com­plainants (the fourth had been sev­ered off and was set­tled with a peace bond) were out­right liars and the third was at best un­re­li­able.

Two of them ap­peared to have col­luded with one an­other be­fore the trial, ex­chang­ing more than 5,000 mes­sages, the most no­to­ri­ous of which said, “It’s time to sink the prick (Ghome­shi)” and“The guy’s a shit show, time to flush.”

In the lovely un­der­stated lan­guage of the judge, they showed “ex­treme ded­i­ca­tion to bring­ing down Mr. Ghome­shi.”

In March that year, On­tario Court Judge Bill Horkins ac­quit­ted him, in ring­ing fash­ion, too, but for all the heft the de­ci­sion was given in the court of pub­lic opin­ion and the halls of so­cial me­dia, he might not have both­ered.

The women still de­scribe them­selves — to this very day — as vic­tims or sur­vivors, and their sup­port­ers still call Ghome­shi a sex­ual preda­tor.

As one tweeted Fri­day, “Stunned that the New York Re­view of Books would com­mis­sion Jian Ghome­shi for a cover story. Ghome­shi faced trial for 4 counts of sex­ual as­sault and 20+ women come for­ward w/ac­counts of abuse, forc­ing a reck­on­ing w/in Cana­dian mu­sic and me­dia bc EV­ERY­ONE KNEW HE WAS A CREEP.”

Ghome­shi ac­knowl­edges that, yes, he was.

In a sec­tion of his piece that I for one found te­dious, he de­scribes in good “doc­tri­naire ac­tivist” form how he “be­gan to use my lib­eral gen­der stud­ies ed­u­ca­tion as a shield against check­ing my own be­hav­iour. I was os­ten­si­bly so schooled in how sex­ism works that I would ar­ro­gantly give my­self a free pass.”

He ad­mits he was tonedeaf. He ad­mits he feels “deep re­morse about how I treated some peo­ple in my life.” He ad­mits he was “emo­tion­ally thought­less.” He ad­mits he lever­aged his sta­tus and power with women. “There are all sorts of old­fash­ioned words to de­scribe men like this: player, creep, cad, Lothario.”

But, he says, “I can­not con­fess to ac­cu­sa­tions that are in­ac­cu­rate.”

I be­lieve in sec­ond chances, even third chances, prob­a­bly be­cause I’m so flawed. In my pri­vate life, I have sup­ported peo­ple who were charged, even con­victed, of se­ri­ous crimes.

But Jian Ghome­shi was ac­quit­ted of crimes. He is not guilty. How on earth can he not be al­lowed redemption, or even to have a voice? Good for The New York Re­view.


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