On the day disgraced former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi began his long-awaited trial for sexual assault, one of his accusers found herself on the defensive, accused of lying about how her relationship with the radio star turned from flirtation to abuse.
With dozens of journalists and curious onlookers packing the courtroom, the woman's account that an alternately charming and brutal Mr. Ghomeshi punched her in the head and pulled her hair was aggressively challenged by his lawyer.
Mr. Ghomeshi faces four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking related to incidents in 2002 and 2003. The allegations come from three women. On Monday, one of those women testified.
The woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified that she met Mr. Ghomeshi while serving hors d'oeuvre for a catering company at the CBC Christmas party in 2002. She said he flirted with her throughout the night and invited her to a taping of his TV show.
The woman agreed, and went with Mr. Ghomeshi to a pub after the taping. Later, the two went to pick up Mr. Ghomeshi's car. He was driving a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, she said – a "Disney car."
While the two sat in his car and kissed, Mr. Ghomeshi suddenly reached around her head and pulled her hair "really, really hard" for about three seconds, she said.
The witness said she remained silent or did not say much after the incident out of shock. "Whatever I said was not very strong or forceful. … I was still absorbing the sudden change in dynamics," she said.
By then, Mr. Ghomeshi had reverted to the "sweet, charming, nice guy before he went into this sudden switch," she added.
Thinking that perhaps he had underestimated his strength, the woman agreed to attend another taping with Mr. Ghomeshi, which she remembered as uneventful. After a third taping, she said, she went with him to his house in the Toronto neighbourhood of Riverdale.
There, the two began kissing on his couch, she said. As they stood and kissed, Mr. Ghomeshi moved behind her and pulled her hair, "harder than the first time he did it," she said, so that she fell on her knees. Then he punched her in the head about three times, making her ears ring, she said.
"I was dizzy, disoriented," she told Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan. "I felt like I had walked into a pole or hit my head on the pavement. It was that strong. And I thought I was going to pass out."
When she began crying, Mr. Ghomeshi told her to leave, she testified, and ordered her a cab.
"He threw me out like trash," she said.
During cross-examination, Marie Henein, Mr. Ghomeshi's lawyer, sharply questioned the reliability of the woman's memory and, at times, her honesty.
Ms. Henein's approach elicited several terse exchanges between the lawyer and witness.
But while the woman often seethed at the direction of her cross-examination, Ms. Henein pointed out inconsistencies between various accounts of the alleged assault.
When she spoke with police about the incident in 2014, more than a decade after it is alleged to have happened, the woman did not mention briefly visiting a pub with Mr. Ghomeshi after the third taping she attended, and before the alleged assault at his house, Ms. Henein noted.
"When I sat with those memories, I remembered that," the woman said on Monday. "I was trying to get a story out and I was nervous."
The witness also told police during her initial interview that she had shoulder-length hair at the time of the alleged hair-pulling incident in the car, then e-mailed them the next day to say that, in fact, she "very clearly" remembered having hair extensions in early 2003.
On Monday in court, the woman retracted her earlier correction, saying she was not wearing hair extensions in 2003. "That was an error on my part," she said.
"Did you have extensions, did you not have extensions? What's your evidence today?" Ms. Henein asked.
The lawyer also cross-examined the woman about media interviews she gave shortly before approaching police with her allegations in which she denied or declined to mention that she was kissing Mr. Ghomeshi in his car when he pulled her hair the first time.
"It wasn't that we were being intimate or anything," she told CBC's The National.
"When you went on national TV to tell your story, I'm going to suggest that you lied," Ms. Henein said.
"I did not lie," the woman shot back. "That's how I am with memories – that's how most people are. The longer you sit with the memory, the more clear."
During questioning from the Crown, the woman explained that she went to the media after allegations began to surface that Mr. Ghomeshi had abused other women.
"Something that I had tried to bury kept resurfacing, and I had to relive the violence, over and over," she said.
On Nov. 1, 2014, she went to the police. "I thought, 'I've come this far,'" she said. "'I might as well do it properly, instead of just media interviews.'"
When he hosted the TV show play and then the radio show Q, Mr. Ghomeshi was widely seen as a gifted interviewer with star power, whose Iranian heritage and progressive politics reflected modern Canada and attracted a coveted younger audience. But in 2014, he was fired from the public broadcaster after allegations surfaced that he had engaged in non-consensual, violent sex with women.
In this trial, each count of sexual assault carries a sentence of up to 18 months, while the choking charge could bring a life sentence.
He will also be tried on a separate count of sexual assault in June.
With a report from Julien Gignac