One of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's most senior executives says its managers' efforts to rein in Jian Ghomeshi, a popular radio host who she said could be "egomaniacal" and "tyrannical," were not enough.
Heather Conway, the CBC's executive vice-president of English services, acknowledged the environment at the radio show Q, described as toxic by current and former staff, was "not acceptable." In her first interview outside the CBC, she said management must "recommit" to the corporation's values, and ensure all are "held to account for that" to avoid repeating such problems in future.
But she also pointed blame for the scandal that has rocked the public broadcaster, and spurred it to fire one of its biggest stars, squarely at the former host. The CBC's leadership believes the "culture of fear" described by current and former Q staff is "something we need to address," but was "very much influenced by Mr. Ghomeshi and his role there."
"This is not the environment in which most people at the CBC find themselves," said Ms. Conway, who was appointed to her role in the fall of 2013. "I don't have evidence of people up in arms about As It Happens."
Mr. Ghomeshi was dismissed on Oct. 26 after his lawyers showed CBC managers video, photos, texts and e-mails, some of which detailed "injury" he had done to women he dated. Since then, at least nine women have made allegations of sexual abuse or harassment against the former host. The CBC has launched a third-party investigation and Toronto Police are conducting their own probe of multiple sexual assault complaints, none of which have been proven.
But Mr. Ghomeshi first approached the CBC's executive director of radio and audio, Chris Boyce, months earlier. Mr. Ghomeshi said the Toronto Star had allegations he had non-consensual, violent sex with a woman during a past relationship, but denied her claim was true.
At the time, Ms. Conway said Mr. Ghomeshi – who she now describes as "demanding," "moody" and "difficult" – seemed sincere and "transparent" about his conduct, which he suggested was simply embarrassing.
Faced with criticism that the CBC was too credulous, she now struggles with the CBC's decision to give him the benefit of the doubt. "You kind of think you should have been more skeptical, you should have made assumptions that were much more negative," she said. "But again, you feel a sense of betrayal, right?… Because there was no one else to ask. There was no specific incident referred to, there was no name of anybody. The only person we could ask was [Mr. Ghomeshi], and we did that," Ms. Conway said. An allegation of non-consensual sex was serious, but "he categorically denied it."
On Oct. 23, when Mr. Boyce and the CBC's head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, saw evidence that Mr. Ghomeshi had harmed a woman, a "180 [degree turn] happened" in the CBC's stance, Ms. Conway said. And still, when the Toronto Star published allegations of abuse from multiple women the night Mr. Ghomeshi was fired, Ms. Conway claims to have been "shocked, truly shocked" by what she read.
Asked who at the CBC should take responsibility for what happened, Ms. Conway replied: "Well, I think the person who's most accountable has been fired," pointing again at Mr. Ghomeshi.
"When a person sets out to deliberately mislead you … and they lie to you and mislead you and tell you something that is, in the end, not true, it's difficult to say, well, you shouldn't have believed him," she said.
A lawyer for Mr. Ghomeshi, Marie Henein, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Even so, the third-party investigator hired to probe complaints about Mr. Ghomeshi or concerns relating to the programs he hosted, Janice Rubin, has a mandate that includes reporting on what "could or should have been done differently," Ms. Conway said. That includes the handling of a Q producer's 2010 allegation that Mr. Ghomeshi told her he wanted to "hate fuck" her during a 2007 meeting.
Ms. Conway also said it is in the CBC's own interest to release as many of Ms. Rubin's findings as possible, but protecting confidentiality for anyone who voices complaints "trumps" the public's "need to know." The CBC must ensure "people don't have to feel like it's an act of bravery to come forward," she said.
"Those kinds of work environments are not to be tolerated and need to be dealt with. And I think some efforts were made to deal with it, but obviously not enough."