The verdict in Friday’s celebrity sexual assault case left many Canadians in a state of bewilderment. The sheer number of accusations seemed to overwhelm any defense Mr. Ghomeshi could proffer, however, Ontario Court Justice William Horkins ruled that the defendant was not guilty of any of the charges brought against him. In response there have been widespread attempts to use the case as an example of how the current criminal justice system makes it difficult for complainants to see punishment delivered to their aggressors. While it’s excruciatingly true that our system doesn’t make expedient the process of levelling rape accusations, the case of Jian Ghomeshi was not a miscarriage of justice for several reasons.
What we saw was an incredibly difficult decision, but the correct one nonetheless. From a legal perspective, Justice Horkins was given no choice but to announce a not guilty ruling. All three complainants deceived the court to varying degrees about the nature of their relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi, and one effectively perjured herself with regards to details of the alleged assault. Writing in the National Post, Robyn Urback notes that, “(t)o find Ghomeshi guilty of sexually assaulting the first witness, Justice Horkins would have had to ignore the fact that she situated the alleged assault in a car that Ghomeshi didn’t own at the time of the alleged incident.” This marked the first major falsehood of the trial which ended up being so fraught with confusing witness statements that the Crown’s case was effectively disassembled.
The second complainant’s allegations were also undermined by the fact that she mischaracterized the nature of her relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi. Simon Houpt remarked in The Globe and Mail that, “(d)uring cross-examination, Ms. Henein (Ghomeshi’s lead counsel) confronted Ms. DeCoutere with numerous e-mails and a six-page handwritten letter that appeared to show that she had pursued a romantic relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi, contrary to Ms. DeCoutere’s characterization of the relationship.” The third complainant was not forthcoming with the court about the fact that she had a sexual encounter with Mr. Ghomeshi after she was allegedly assaulted.
This case is emotional and frustrating, that much is clear. Do I think Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of the crimes he allegedly committed? Yes, I think he probably is. I find it very unlikely that a whole slew of women are just constructing this fiction wherein Jian Ghomeshi is a mean and unpleasant guy, and ultimately a criminal. But, and it is tiring to have to say this, the court made the right decision given the proceedings. In the official judgement we are reminded that, “(t)he harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth,” Justice Horkins stated. “I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the court to have sufficient faith in the reliability of sincerity of these complainants. Put simply, the volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence leaves the court with a reasonable doubt.” This case is difficult to parse out because it’s totally possible to believe concurrently that Mr. Ghomeshi is guilty in a court of public opinion and innocent in a court of law.