Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges in his sexual assault trial on Thursday, with the judge sharply criticizing the three complainants as "deceptive and manipulative" and advocates charging that the outcome proves the insufficiency of the justice system to address such matters.
In a 25-page decision read from the bench, Justice William Horkins of the Ontario Court of Justice said the complainants' credibility was shattered by their continually shifting testimony and last-minute disclosures of information that reframed their relationships with Mr. Ghomeshi.
"Each complainant was confronted with a volume of evidence that was contrary to their prior sworn statements and their evidence-in-chief," he said. "Each complainant demonstrated, to some degree, a willingness to ignore their oath to tell the truth on more than one occasion. It is this aspect of their evidence that is most troubling to the court."
Mr. Ghomeshi had faced four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking, after charges were laid in the wake of his high-profile dismissal from CBC in October, 2014. He faces a single count of sexual assault in a separate trial to be heard in June.
In his ruling, Justice Horkins said his concerns were manifold, including possible collusion between two complainants, Lucy DeCoutere and the woman identified in the ruling as S.D., who exchanged thousands of electronic messages between October, 2014, and September, 2015. (The identities of S.D. and another complainant, known as L.R., are protected by a publication ban.)
Justice Horkins didn't mince words. He wrote: "I find as fact that Ms. DeCoutere attempted to mislead the Court about her continued relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi." He noted ruefully that S.D., despite having met five times with police in the year prior to the trial and being "reminded of the need to be completely honest and accurate," waited until "almost literally the eve of being called to the witness stand" before disclosing that she and Mr. Ghomeshi had had a sexual encounter after the alleged assault.
He was also dismissive of L.R. for failing to disclose until cross-examination that she had sent Mr. Ghomeshi beseeching e-mails and a photograph of herself in a bikini more than one year after suffering two alleged assaults at his hand.
He noted that "one of the challenges for the prosecution in this case is that the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi are supported by nothing in addition to the complainants' word […] There is no tangible evidence. There is no DNA. There is no 'smoking gun.' There is only the sworn evidence of each complainant, standing on its own, to be measured against a very exacting standard of proof. This highlights the importance of the assessment of the credibility and the reliability and the overall quality of the evidence."
In a statement issued after the verdict, L.R. said she was "never invested in the outcome of the verdict." Speaking outside the courthouse on her behalf, her lawyer, Jacob Jesin, said: "For me, this journey allowed me to face Mr. Ghomeshi and tell my story publicly for the first time. I always understood that a conviction would be difficult." She added that she hoped her decision to come forward and challenge Mr. Ghomeshi in public "gives strength to other victims of sexual assault."
Mr. Ghomeshi's counsel issued a statement to the press noting that the case "was determined on the evidence heard in a court of law." The statement added: "This has been a very long and exhausting 16 months for Mr. Ghomeshi. He will take time with his family and close friends to reflect and move forward from what can only be described as a profoundly difficult period in his life."
Politicians stood by the women: Shortly before the verdict came down, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair posted a brief essay to Medium.com, titled I Believe Survivors, in which he said that sexual assault "is a crime that is seldom reported and that leads even less frequently to a conviction. This must change and we can all be part of changing this unacceptable reality."
As news of the verdict spread, protesters gathered around the front of the Old City Hall courthouse. Chants of "We believe survivors" and "Stop rape now" grew in volume. "I feel let down by the system," Futhi Sikakane said. "Because, once again, we are told that nobody believes us, nobody believes survivors."
When Crown counsel Michael Callaghan came outside to address the media, a bare-chested female demonstrator vaulted through the crowd, screaming about misogyny. She was tackled by police and arrested.
Later in the day, protesters gathered for a rally at Old City Hall. Dayna Macdonald, who identifies as a survivor of sexual assault, said that, as disappointed as she was about Mr. Ghomeshi's verdict, she was expecting it. "I feel drained of energy because of it," she said.
With reports from Mahnoor Yawar and Julien Gignac