Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi acquitted on all charges in sexual assault trial

Mar 24, 2016 | News

Jian Ghomeshi (C), a former celebrity radio host who has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, leaves the courthouse after the first day of his trial in Toronto, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Jian Ghomeshi (C), a former celebrity radio host who has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, leaves the courthouse after the first day of his trial in Toronto, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Jennifer Berry, Christy Farr and Jeremy Appel

Protests erupted outside Old City Hall after Justice William Horkins announced that ex-CBC host Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

Demonstrators chanted “we believe survivors” and a topless woman rushed the podium where Crown Attorney Michael Callaghan was in the midst of making a statement. The woman was swiftly tackled, handcuffed and removed from the premises.

Video Courtesy of Veronica Appia, Sarah Trumbley and Christy Farr.

In explaining his reasoning, Horkins said that it was impossible, based on the complainants’ testimony to determine with certainty what was true and what was false.

The judge said he had “no hesitation” in ruling that the evidence was insufficient to outweigh Ghomeshi’s presumption of innocence.

“My conclusion that the evidence in this case raises a reasonable doubt is not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened,” he conceded. 

Horkins said he appreciates that victims of sexual assault don’t always behave rationally.

“However, the twists and turns of the complainants’ evidence in this trial, illustrate the need to be vigilant in avoiding the equally dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful,” he concluded. 

Ghomeshi’s trial went badly for the complainants from the outset, with his lead lawyer Marie Henein hammering away at inconsistencies in their stories. Ghomeshi has not taken the stand or made any public statements throughout the duration of the trial.

Horkins agreed that each witness, to varying degrees, admitted to deliberately withholding embarrassing information from detectives and the Crown.

The first complainant, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, told police she had cut off all contact with Ghomeshi after he allegedly assaulted her a second time.

Henein presented the court with evidence that this was not the case – the first witness sent Ghomeshi a picture of herself lying on the beach in a red bikini. When shown the image, the witness said she was trying to “bait” Ghomeshi into contacting her to find out why he had abused her.

Horkins said this behaviour was inconsistent with the narrative she espoused under oath. Similarly, Horkins ruled that actress Lucy DeCoutere’s testimony was not credible.

“Let me emphasize strongly, it is the suppression of evidence and the deceptions maintained under oath that drive my concerns with the reliability of this witness, not necessarily her undetermined motivations for doing so,” Horkins said in reference to DeCoutere, the second complainant. 

DeCoutere, who waived her right to anonymity, said she had no desire to be in a relationship with Ghomeshi. She avoided him unless they were in a large group of people after the alleged assault.

Henein presented the court with a series of e-mails DeCoutere sent Ghomeshi, including one where she threatened to “stalk” him if he wasn’t willing to see her in Banff, Alta., pictures of them cuddling in a park near Ghomeshi’s house the day after the alleged assault and, most dramatically, a hand-written love letter DeCoutere sent Ghomeshi less than a week after the alleged incident.

Henein read parts of the letter out loud and then asked DeCoutere to read the final line. “I love your hands,” said the letter, signed “Lucy.”

The final complainant, who is also under a publication ban, revealed to the Crown minutes before she took the stand that she had engaged in sexual touching with the former radio host after the alleged assault.

Horkins agreed with Henein that this amounted to “playing chicken with the justice system,” meaning she withheld information until it became clear that she would be confronted with it by the defence.

The final complainant had also exchanged more than 5,000 messages with DeCoutere in the year between the allegations breaking and the trial’s outset on Feb. 1.

Henein argued that this behaviour is indicative of collusion, while the Crown and witnesses in question described the two witnesses’ relationship as “an informal support group.”

In her Feb. 11 closing arguments, Henein said the evidence against Ghomeshi didn’t hold up under scrutiny as it was “riddled with inconsistencies.”

Callaghan countered that such inconsistencies are to be expected after the 13 years between the alleged assaults and the laying of charges.

A second trial is slated for June, where Ghomeshi faces an additional sexual assault charge that allegedly took place at the CBC.

Ghomeshi declined requests for comment on his way out of court.