Former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of all charges in the broadcaster’s sexual assault trial. Ghomeshi had been facing four counts of sexual assault, as well as one count of overcoming resistance by choking.
Justice William Horkins delivered the judgment in a Toronto courthouse on Thursday. His decision in the case comes more than a month after the Crown and the defence wrapped up their arguments in court.
Horkins cited issues of credibility with Ghomeshi’s accusers, based on changes in their stories and a failure to disclose all information before the trial. He also cited several emails and photos presented in court as evidence that the complainants may not have been as traumatized by their encounters with Ghomeshi as they claimed.
“The harsh reality is that once a witness is shown to be deceptive and inconsistent, the court cannot have faith in complainants,” he said.
Ghomeshi’s mother and sister were present in the courtroom for the judgment.
The accusations against Ghomeshi date back to encounters he had with three women at various times between 2002 and 2003. The former host of the pop culture show “Q” has always maintained that his sexual encounters with his accusers were consensual.
The Crown’s case hinged on testimony from three women, including actress Lucy DeCoutere, who chose to be publicly identified. The first complainant to testify, who cannot be identified, accused Ghomeshi of yanking her hard by the hair and punching her in the head. DeCoutere alleged that he pushed her up against a wall and choked her. A third complainant said he bit her suddenly and squeezed her neck with his hands.
Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, presented a bevy of emails, texts and hand-written letters in his defence, in her efforts to demonstrate that the complainants continued to court Ghomeshi’s attention after the alleged incidents.
Horkins spoke at length about the testimony of DeCoutere, who came out publicly against Ghomeshi and gave several media interviews about her encounters with him. Horkins said he was troubled by DeCoutere’s “suppression of evidence and deception maintained under oath,” in relation to a handwritten love letter she sent Ghomeshi after the alleged assault. DeCoutere had not disclosed the existence of the letter to the Crown.
Horkins contrasted the “strong animosity” DeCoutere expressed in her media interviews with the sexually suggestive language used in the letter, and said it is “difficult to trust” a witness who selectively withholds information.
“Even if you believe the accused is probably guilty… it is not sufficient,” Horkins said. He added that the case was complicated by the lack of a “smoking gun,” and that the credibility of the complainants made it “impossible” to determine what is true and false, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Credibility at issue during trial
In his judgment, Horkins cited several issues with DeCoutere’s testimony, including inconsistencies in her story that were brought to light by the love letter and other messages revealed in court. Horkins also said DeCoutere showed a “wilful carelessness with the truth,” for refusing to disclose all details to the police, including the information that their relationship continued after the alleged assault. “I find as a fact that Ms. DeCoutere attempted to mislead the Court about her continued relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi,” he said.
Horkins acknowledged that it can be tough for a sex assault victim to remember the assault clearly, especially if it happened many years ago. However, he said the “troubling” part of DeCoutere’s testimony wasn’t the lack of clarity, but the “shifting of facts from one telling of the incident to the next.”
“It became clear at trial that Ms. DeCoutere very deliberately chose not to be completely honest with the police,” Horkins said in his decision. “This reflects very negatively on her general reliability and credibility as a witness.”
In terms of the first complainant’s testimony, Horkins said the “shifting facts” were cause for concern. He spoke in particular about a flirtatious email and a bikini photo the complainant sent to Ghomeshi after the alleged incident, saying that they were inconsistent with her statement that she was “traumatized” by the thought of Ghomeshi. “I have no hesitation in saying that the behaviour of the complainant is, at the very least, odd,” he said.
Horkins said the first complainant’s evidence seemed “rational and balanced” at first, but under cross-examination, “the value of her evidence suffered irreparable damage.”
In an exclusive interview with Newstalk 1010, the first complainant said she felt “tricked” by the defence, Marie Henein. She said she took issue with the way Henein presented her questions, and didn’t feel she was able to clarify a few of the points.
She also addressed the alluring photo of her in a bikini. “I knew the picture was coming,” she said in the interview. “I was not surprised, I was not shocked. I wasn’t embarrassed either.”
In his decision on the third complainant’s case, Horkins said there appeared to be a strong “team bond” between the unidentified woman and DeCoutere in their approach to the case. He pointed out that they initially shared lawyers, continued to share a publicist and often spoke about court details together.
As with the other witnesses, Horkins raised the issue of credibility with the third complainant, because she did not immediately disclose a sexual encounter with Ghomeshi after the alleged assault. That encounter later came out during cross-examination.
“She was prepared to tell half the truth for as long as she thought she might get away with it,” he said.
Outside the courthouse
Protesters outside the courthouse chanted “We believe survivors,” as Ghomeshi arrived for the verdict Thursday morning, and again after the judgment was delivered.
Crown lawyer Michael Callaghan said his team will review the judgment over the weekend. “We’re still within the 30-day appeal period,” he said outside the courthouse.
Callaghan’s brief statement was interrupted by a topless female protester, who knocked over the podium while shouting “We believe survivors.” Police quickly intervened and led her away.
Ghomeshi’s sister, Jila Ghomeshi, told reporters outside the courthouse that the trial was “extremely difficult” for the whole family. “It has been extremely painful for those of us who love him,” she said.
She also acknowledged the debate around sexual violence that has surrounded the trial. “Jian is not a symbol to us, but a beloved brother and son,” she said.
Ghomeshi, who did not testify during the case, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters on Thursday. Henein also declined to speak publicly about the judgment.
Ghomeshi still faces another trial in June for a separate sex assault allegation.
Chuck Thompson, CBC’s head of public affairs, said the judge’s ruling is “unrelated” to the public broadcaster’s decision to end Ghomeshi’s employment in 2014. “Based on the evidence that came to our attention, his actions were not in line with the values of the public broadcaster, nor with our employee code of contact,” Thompson said in a statement to CTV News.