Jian Ghomeshi and the Court of Public Opinion

I have been following the trial of Jian Ghomeshi in the online editions of Toronto newspapers as well as on social media. For the uninitiated, Jian Ghomeshi used to be the famous host of CBC Radio One’s Q, a show he co-created and co-wrote. Ghomeshi’s confidence and charm, his smooth interviewing style, and his radio essays delivered as a soliloquy at the beginning of Q made him and his show very popular. So much so that Q became one of the highest-rated shows in the history of CBC. But in 2014, Ghomeshi, who is Iranian-Canadian, was abruptly fired by CBC and a series of articles printed by the Toronto Star revealed him to be the subject of multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Ghomeshi is now on trial for four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance through chocking and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Although to date 23 women have come forward – for the most part anonymously – only three are testifying under oath.

Reading about the trial is painful as legal experts and commentators believe Ghomeshi will be acquitted. His lawyer, Marie Henein has employed an effective strategy of discrediting and undermining key witnesses by scrutinising their behaviour and actions in the run-up to and in the aftermath of the assaults. She has revealed evidence that at least in two cases the victims pursued a relationship with Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults. What is even more painful than reading about these developments is reading the commentary of a handful of Iranian Facebook “friends” rejoicing at this turn of events and lamenting Ghomeshi’s “wrongful” dismissal from CBC.

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Jian Ghomeshi, defence co-counsel Danielle Robitaille, defence lawyer Marie Henein, Justice William Horkins, and a witness. Source: Canadian Press.

 

Firstly, whether or not these women pursued Ghomeshi after the assaults is irrelevant. Let’s not even enter into the psychological complexities with which victims of sexual assault often grapple or how common it is for victims to try and normalise their experience post-trauma. In a society that has laws against marital rape and requires spouses to obtain consent for every sexual encounter one expects that consent must also be obtained before chocking women or breaking their ribs. There is documented proof for the latter offence by the way, which apparently was the very instigator of Ghomeshi’s “wrongful” dismissal by the CBC.

Secondly, for some individual Iranians to rush to Ghomeshi’s defence simply because he identifies as Iranian is nothing but irrational tribalism. Although these individuals make up a minority (the majority of voices have either condemned his actions or remained neutral) I am disappointed to see even a single person defend a sexual predator over a sexual assault victim motivated by something as base and irrelevant in the twenty-first century as nationalism. Sadly, over the past week I’ve encountered not one but several individuals, women no less, who have expressed such views – despite being progressive enough to frequent pro-democracy protests and being active in lofty cultural and literary affairs in the community.

Our legal system has been designed to err on the side of extreme caution. And yes, every man is innocent unless proven otherwise in a court of law. But when a system fails women, specifically victims of assault, time and time again there is cause for outrage. Cases like this one expose a criminal justice system that continues to fail women by judging the victims more harshly for their actions before and after an attack than the perpetrator. It’s quite tragic that in 2016, consistent and highly overlapping testimony of four women among other evidence might not be good enough to get a conviction. Ghomeshi, his defence attorney, the judge, and the public most probably know full well that he is not being framed by 23 women. Yet he will most probably walk unscathed while the victims are depicted as star-stricken fans and “jilted ex-girlfriends” – to quote Ghomeshi himself. They will be and probably are already trolled online, subjected to character assassination, and harmed professionally.

So let us not kid ourselves! Given the overwhelming number of victims who have come forward with very similar stories and given the fact that, statistically speaking, false accusations of sexual assault are exceedingly rare, let us at the very least not exonerate Ghomeshi in the court of public opinion. And most crucially let us not do it in the name of something as stupid as tribalism!