Friday, April 08, 2016

The Court of Public Opinion

JIan Ghomeshi, with lawyer Marie Henein, made his way many times in recent months through public throngs without talking. But Judith Timson believes in the court of public opinion he will eventually have something to say.

The Jian Ghomeshi trial came and went, although the former radio celeb will be back in court in June. Ghomeshi is present but not accounted for in the sense that he has to testify. That is the responsibility of his accusers and the first three did not fare well, all being dismantled in questioning by Ghomeshi's formidable lawyer, Marie Henein. Henein did exactly what she was employed to do, and the outcome was what everyone who knows the judicial system expected. While she was vilified as a traitor to her gender she did an exemplary job as a lawyer, regardless of gender.

As a Christian minister who has listened to many heart-wrenching stories of assault and abuse, and as a person married to a former Women's Shelter counsellor, the outcome of this case was not satisfying. While I appreciate why Ghomeshi was acquitted, I am not convinced justice was done for those three women, many more who didn't press charges, and for women everywhere who are reluctant to enter into the murky waters of a legal system that seldom addresses sexual assault cases without leaving the complainants feeling they have been made victims again. I felt that the judge unnecessarily scolded the complainants, even though their testimony was not sufficiently credible for a conviction.

In the end Ghomeshi was acquitted in a court of law, but not in the court of public opinion, as Toronto Star writer Judith Timson so cogently reminds us. In her excellent article she poses ten questions I feel get to the heart of the moral and ethical matters.

1. Mr. Ghomeshi, why do you think so many women — not just these three but easily a dozen more — came forward to the media with accounts of having been abused or assaulted by you? Is it your contention that every single one of these women was lying or mistaken or vengeful? If so, why would that be?
2. Can you walk the court of public opinion through your admitted “rough sex” practice and tell us what physical actions were involved? 
3. Could you help us understand what “consent” means to you? No one doubts that consenting sexual partners do all sorts of things that others view as weird or distasteful or dangerous.  Did you obtain verbal consent every time you practiced rough sex?
4. Apart from the allegations of sexual assault, why do you think other women have come forward, to say your manner with them socially or professionally, was sexualized, overly flirtatious or just plain creepy?
5. Were you aware that in the arts and music scene, that talk was rife about you being a “bad date”? Did this concern you?  Did you ever try to rebut this gossip? If not, why not?
6. Can you please tell the court of public opinion why you kept emails and in one case a written letter that were more than a decade old from women who seemed to have meant so little to you. How did you file these emails?
7. In the CBC interview, your lawyer Marie Henein said this process was “painful and very difficult” for you and that anyone who goes through a criminal trial “will never be the same again.” How did this trial change you?
8. Have you given any critical thought to your relationships with women?
9. If you are acquitted at your next trial, how do you intend to rebuild your life?
10. And finally having gone through what anyone would describe as a legal nightmare, what would you have done differently?

I did feel that some of the post-trial reaction was "over the top" but the issues around sexual assault have not been resolved and once again the provisions of the law are found wanting.

How did you feel at the end of it all? Do we need to re-examine the way our judicial system addresses sexual assault?

1 comment:

Frank said...

I certainly had questions regarding the retention of emails 10+ years old. Who does that?

I personally need to gain more understanding of how assaulted people respond after the fact from these violations. I could not get how people would continue to maintain their attachments after being abused. The very evident collusion between complainants didn't help this case much either.

I think the questions posed in the Star deserve answers. I'm still not convinced that Ghomeshi's legal acquittal remains the final word. And clearly the women in this case would have benefited from publicly funded legal representation beyond the crown prosecutor, who was acting on behalf of the public as a whole and not the women. This should be a wakeup call for legal change in future cases.