Skip to main content

I have a sense that the outcome of Jian Ghomeshi's court proceedings is disappointing to anyone not named Jian Ghomeshi. After a first sexual-assault trial ended in acquittal in March, and a second ended this week with the withdrawal of charges and Mr. Ghomeshi signing a peace bond, there is a sense that he is getting off rather lightly. Many people would prefer Old Testament vengeance, complete with boils and smiting, when what we're left with is the judgment delivered by our flawed but precious judicial system.

This is as it should be, even if many of us find the outcome unsatisfying. The court of public opinion is delicious theatre, and therapeutic, but you wouldn't want it building the gallows and delivering the nooses. Still, there is a need for something useful to come from the whole thing. At the frustrating end of a deeply disturbing saga, how do we salvage meaning from the past year? What, in a phrase too heinous ever to appear in the Bible, is the teachable moment?

It's tempting to look at Mr. Ghomeshi's apology, delivered in court to the complainant in the case, Kathryn Borel. (Ms. Borel had been a producer on Mr. Ghomeshi's CBC Radio show Q, where she had been subjected to gross sexual behaviour and innuendo from the host.) He said, "In the last 18 months, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on this incident and the difficulties I caused Ms. Borel and I have had to come to terms with my own deep regret and embarrassment." He goes on, in carefully couched language, to admit that his behaviour was "demeaning and insensitive." As an apology, it seems about as heartfelt as an Ikea instruction manual, though it was probably costlier to draft.

The statement to the court by Marie Henein, Mr. Ghomeshi's talented lawyer, is actually much more useful. She clearly wants this all over with, stat. Nothing to see here, people, move along. Show's over. At the end of her statement, she expressed her "sincere hope that the Canadian public can now move forward. And while this matter has consumed the attention of so many, there are many equally important matters in this country that the public wants to know about and that I hope we can now turn our attention to."

Hmm. I'm not so sure about that. It seems to me this is precisely the moment to shine a light on workplace harassment, before the microphones get packed up and the cameras move on and we begin to concentrate on "important matters" such as the Raptors' chances and the Prime Minister's yoga heroics.

There will be people who try to use the end of Mr. Ghomeshi's trials as a way to dismiss the issue of sexual abuse in the workplace, to say it's overblown – or, even more hilariously, that it's all taken care of now that we've had a good chat about it.

That would be news to a lot of employees in nasty workplaces. For example, the hundreds of women who have banded together in class-action lawsuits hoping to sue the RCMP over allegations of sexual harassment and abuse they suffered while working for the national police force. One of the most prominent RCMP whistleblowers, Catherine Galliford, had her case – two decades of bullying and sexual misconduct that led to her suffering from PTSD – settled out of court earlier this month.

In the wake of the allegations and a damning investigation, the RCMP put new harassment policies in place, but that doesn't mean it's a shiny new world. As Corporal Galliford told Maclean's magazine in February, 2015, "I know so many perpetrators who are still working in the RCMP, but the women who have been victimized are not."

Or we could look at the ongoing problem of sexual harassment in the military – such a fresh issue, in fact, that the Canadian Armed Forces is at the moment using Statistics Canada to conduct a survey of sexual misconduct in the ranks. This follows the brutal 2015 external review that identified not only "an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members," but also the fact that high-ranking officers ignored the problem under their noses. When the military opened a sexual-misconduct reporting centre last September, it received more than 100 allegations of sexual harassment or assault within a few months.

Or we might just look out on the street, where men continue to yell a particularly vile and unimaginative sexual slur at female television reporters who are trying to do their jobs. A man who did this in Calgary was fined for "stunting," although "drive-by misogyny" would look better on the ticket. In Toronto, a pregnant reporter was the subject of the abuse. That was in April, in case you thought that this trend had magically evaporated after chuckleheads heard the tut-tutting and decided to reconsider their bad behaviour.

These are merely the high-profile cases that have caught the spotlight. God only knows what's happening in fields where women feel they can't afford to come forward. So, no, I'd say now is not the time to move on. Not while there are women who feel unsafe and harassed at work, and whose "humanity and dignity," to use Ms. Borel's excellent phrase, are under siege. Instead of moving on, maybe we should make a note in indelible pen, so we'll remember next time.

Interact with The Globe