The allegations of sexual abuse by Jian Ghomeshi came so fast and so furiously in the fall of 2014 that it was practically a full-time job just to keep up. The Toronto Star broke the story with a bombshell on a Sunday night in late October; by the end of the week, there were dozens of other stories and interviews, as a growing corps of women came forward to make allegations of horrific conduct.
CBC’s The National and As It Happens aired interviews with an unidentified woman who said Mr. Ghomeshi beat her about the head and threw her out of the house. The actress Lucy DeCoutere alleged to half a dozen outlets that she had been choked and slapped.
The only thing that was objectively certain, even before Mr. Ghomeshi was officially charged by police with sexual assault a few weeks later, was that he had been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.
But as the first week of his trial on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking unfolded – a separate trial on a single count of sexual assault is scheduled for June – it appears those same interviews that Ms. DeCoutere and her fellow complainants gave to media outlets have been key ingredients in Mr. Ghomeshi’s defence.
The strategy was forming even before the Crown called its first witness. During a motion by a lawyer arguing the media should have unfettered access to the trial’s exhibits, Mr. Ghomeshi’s lead defence counsel, Marie Henein, seemed to be smacking her lips as she told the court that Ms. DeCoutere “has done no fewer than 24 media interviews.”
Those interviews – and the three that the first complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, gave the Star and CBC – provided a sturdy platform for Ms. Henein to demolish the credibility of the two witnesses heard so far.
Early in her cross-examination of the first complainant, Ms. Henein noted sharply that the woman had told media that, during her first date with Mr. Ghomeshi, the two had been in his car when, with no romantic build-up, “he reached over and grabbed my hair very hard, and pulled my hair back.” But during her testimony, in fact, the woman revealed they had been kissing when the alleged assault occurred.
At first, she tried to say the Star had gotten her words wrong, that reporter Kevin Donovan “twisted my story.” But then Ms. Henein showed her a transcript of her interview with The National in which she gave the same account.
“When you went on national television to tell your story,” Ms. Henein said, her tone rising, “I’m going to suggest to you that you lied.”
“I did not lie,” the woman responded, noting that she had given her interviews in the first tumultuous week of revelations. “I’m telling you that, when I went, I had a day to sit with things, with memories, and I was nervous, and if I had done this interview a week, two weeks later, it would probably have had much more detail.”
The woman hadn’t realized her words might be used against her; she told CBC’s Carol Off that she didn’t even think she could still press charges.
Ms. DeCoutere said something similar. “It wasn’t, ‘I’m gonna talk to the press before I talk to police,’” she told Ms. Henein during cross-examination on Thursday. “My plan was to talk to the press.”
Branding her as a publicity hound, Ms. Henein noted Ms. DeCoutere had told a reporter that, by being a public figure who had identified herself as a survivor of sexual assault, she had given new visibility to the issue: “It’s sort of like when David Beckham attaches himself to Armani underwear.”
“That’s a terrible analogy,” Ms. DeCoutere admitted.
All of us have said things that could come back to bite us: Many people noted last week that Ms. Henein, in a taped appearance at a 1998 legal panel that has done the rounds online, floated the noxious notion that a defence counsel could get around the rape-shield law that prohibits raising a complainant’s previous sexual history by bringing it before the judge in a pre-trial hearing – a statement for which she has been rightly pilloried.
But then, Marie Henein is not on trial. Mind you, neither is Lucy DeCoutere.Report Typo/Error