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Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Margaret Wente

Truth and deception: Ghomeshi verdict a good day for justice Add to ...

The courtroom is where the truth comes out. On Thursday, Justice William Horkins summed up the truth about the case against Jian Ghomeshi. There wasn’t one. None of the three witnesses were trustworthy. The stories they told to the police, the Crown and the court were “tainted by outright deception.” They were manipulative. All three – L.R., Lucy DeCoutere, and S.D. – failed in their most elementary duty: to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

No one who followed the trial could have been surprised by the verdict. All three women’s stories fell apart on the witness stand. All had told police how shocked and traumatized they had been by Mr. Ghomeshi’s assaults. In fact, there was plenty of evidence that they had projected their shock and trauma back into the past. At the time, their principal reaction was to pursue him further – a detail they didn’t bother to share with the police, or with the numerous media outlets that gave at least two of them generous air time. They only bothered to share it when they learned they were about to be caught out.

“The act of suppression of the truth will be as damaging to their credibility as a direct lie under oath,” the judge said.

And oh, what they suppressed. Witness No. 1, L.R., testified that she couldn’t watch Mr. Ghomeshi on TV because the sight of his face made her relive the trauma of the alleged assault. What she failed to mention was the flirtatious e-mails she sent, inviting him to get together. Ms DeCoutere testified that she ended her budding romance with him after their traumatic encounter. What she failed to mention was the flowers, the love letter, and the romantic e-mails with which she inundated him for months and months – none of them displaying the least ambiguity about her affections. Witness No. 3, S.D., testified that she feared Mr. Ghomeshi so much she refused to be alone with him. She suppressed the fact that despite this fear, she took him back to her place a few days later and gave him a friendly hand job.

S.D. was clearly “playing chicken with the justice system,” the judge said. “She was prepared to tell half the truth for as long as she thought she might get away with it.”

S.D. claimed that she had omitted to disclose crucial information because she didn’t know how to “navigate” the system. The judge was properly dismissive of this excuse. “Navigating this sort of proceeding is really quite simple,” he said. “Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

The judge was careful to point out that memories of events that happened long ago can be excusably blurry, and that sexual trauma victims may behave in unpredictable ways. “Courts must guard against applying false stereotypes concerning the expected conduct of [sexual assault] complainants,” he said. But they must also “be vigilant in avoiding the equally dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful.”

The complainants may have had another motive for concealing the truth. They had become media celebrities. And they had a mission to bring Mr. Ghomeshi down. In one of the thousands of e-mails Ms. DeCoutere exchanged with S.D, she said she wanted to see him “fucking decimated.”

The case against Mr. Ghomeshi fell apart not because the system is rigged against the victims, not because he had a clever defence lawyer who knew all the tricks, not because sexual assault victims are not believed. It fell apart because all three women grossly failed to tell the truth. It was one of the weakest cases that many people have ever seen.

The message for genuine sexual assault victims should be very reassuring. The message is that if you come forward, the police and the courts will treat you with great respect. It will be hard. The bar for a criminal conviction is reasonably (but not unreasonably) high. If you’re honest and forthright you’ll get a fair shake in court.

As for Mr. Ghomeshi, does this verdict mean he didn’t do it? Not at all. The judge made no judgment about that. What he found was that there was not enough evidence to convict. That is a very different thing.

There were two trials going on, of course – the one in the court of law, and the one in the court of public opinion. The verdicts are strikingly different. Many people will continue to believe that Mr. Ghomeshi is guilty. And they’re sorry he got away with it.

They shouldn’t be. The justice system performed exactly as it should. Public opinion will mete out its own sentence on Mr. Ghomeshi. And that too is just.

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