Ghomeshi Trial: Expert urges changes in future for survivors of sexual violence

Feb 9, 2016 | News

Jian Ghomeshi exiting the courthouse at Old City Hall. (Photo by Katie Pederson)

Jian Ghomeshi exiting the courthouse at Old City Hall. (Photo by Katie Pederson)

Samantha Singh

In light of the ongoing Jian Ghomeshi trial one feminist lawyer suggests there could be a different system in future for sexual violence cases in court.

Ghomeshi, a former CBC radio host, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking, all related to alleged assaults from 2002-2003.

His trial, going on at Old City Hall in Toronto, has prompted discussions about the treatment of witnesses who are victims of sexual assault. The allegations against Ghomeshi date back years and his defence has put a sharp focus on the credibility of the witnesses.

“When a survivor, who is now called a witness, is testifying in a sexual assault case, inevitably the defence lawyer is going to do their job properly,” said Pamela Cross.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have a specialized sexual violence court” – Pamela Cross

“They’re going to have to try to throw question on the credibility of that witness,” said Cross, who is the legal director of Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre for Women.

The defence tends to question credibility by attacking a woman’s character and memory and to “fall back on all of these old rape myths,” said Cross whose agency is based Oshawa.  “Well, we’d like to call them old rape myths, but they’re still alive in 2016.”

Cross said that there could be an alternate way for justice for survivors of sexual violence.

Need for accessible legal preparation

“I’m a lawyer and I am a feminist first,” she said. “I believe deeply in those principles of ‘innocence until proven guilty’ and that we need to be pretty much 100 per cent certain that someone’s guilty before we convict them,” she said.

At the same time she said victims, or witnesses, should have access to legal advice and representation without having to pay any additional costs

This means that the witness has access to someone like a lawyer to walk them through a cross-examination and help them prepare for a trial, she said.

Having specialized sexual violence courts would be something else that could be beneficial to sexual assault cases, Cross said.

“Toronto and some other communities have three other kinds of specialized courts,” said Cross.

“There are specialized courts to handle cases where the accused is a person with a mental health issue. There are specialized courts to deal with drug cases. Not that far removed from sexual assault, there are specialized domestic violence courts,” she said.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have a specialized sexual violence court,” she said

In those specific courts, judges and crown attorneys would have specialized training and have the appropriate resources to conduct a prosecution effectively, she said.