Jian Ghomeshi was employed for several years at CBC Network in Toronto. He rose to prominence and gained widespread popularity as the presenter for the popular radio show, Q. However, his downfall hit quickly due to a series of disturbing sexual harassment and assault allegations that surfaced against him in 2014 and 2015 (MacMillan, 2014). This resulted in Ghomeshi being criminally charged, although he was later acquitted of most of the charges (MacMillan, 2014).
The purpose of this presentation will be to examine the reasons for my particular interest in the criminal case, and the associated events, that involved Ghomeshi. Data for this presentation was gathered primarily using three sources. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) online database was used to retrieve transcript records of his criminal case, which ensured greater reliability of the information. Google Scholar was used to obtain peer-reviewed documents, using the keywords “Jian Ghomeshi” AND “Jian Ghomeshi scandal”. These keywords were also used in Google to provide additional supplementary information from reliable news websites.
The first reason that this case particularly interested me was how Jian Ghomeshi was suddenly taken down by some very serious allegations. In October 2014, the reality of the allegations seemingly stunned the thousands of viewers who admired and respected him (McGuire, 2014). Within a matter of days, Ghomeshi was fired by CBC and then criminally charged by Toronto Police (Sealy-Harrington, 2016). Specifically, he was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance to sexual assault by choking (Sealy-Harrington, 2016). In layman terms, Ghomeshi was facing the very real prospect that his career was suddenly over, and he might be facing time in prison if convicted.
Given that the scandal involving Ghomeshi predated the rise of the #MeToo movement, it is stunning to see a highly publicized scandal of a wealthy male who was alleged to have sexually assaulted various women. In this context, it also somewhat surprising to me that these allegations did not prompt a wider question of other individuals in positions of power who might have committed similar acts of misconduct. Fortunately, this eventually did occur with the #MeToo movement, albeit not until after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein in late 2017 – a few years after the Ghomeshi scandal and trial (Chuck, 2017; Ghomeshi, 2018).
The Culpability of CBC
It is interesting to me that CBC executives repeatedly ignored the warning signs, red flags that something was amiss with Ghomeshi’s behaviour. Despite this, it seems as though CBC managed to escape this scandal with few, if any, repercussions. In an independent report commissioned by CBC, Rubin (2015) discovered that various CBC bosses and executives had a reasonable awareness of the allegations for months, if not years, before they were publicized. Moreover, these same executives recklessly missed opportunities to investigate or issue warnings to Ghomeshi stemming from the allegations of Ghomeshi’s questionable behaviour that they were privy to (Rubin, 2015).
It is frankly baffling to me that CBC, a public corporation, managed to mishandle the looming Ghomeshi as severely as they did. It is similarly confusing that CBC decided they would conduct an “…informal, internal investigation…” into allegations about Ghomeshi’s conduct, yet decide to not really take it seriously until they were forced to because of public pressure. This strikes me as a corporation who tried their best to ‘sweep the issue under the rug’, so to speak. That is, CBC had no intrinsic motivation to fire Ghomeshi despite knowing that he likely committed sexual misconduct. Based on this, it is very interesting to me that CBC managed to avoid any considerable scrutiny over their grave mismanagement of the scandal before it became public. The only brief mea culpa offered was an apology by CBC to Kathryn Borel, one of Ghomeshi’s accusers who was also employed at the network (Sealy-Harrington, 2016). Nonetheless, CBC enabled the toxic environment that allowed Ghomeshi’s actions to go unchecked for as long as they did, thus making them partly culpable.
The Surprises at the Criminal Trial
In many respects, the March 2016 criminal trial of Jian Ghomeshi was a surprise to many. All of the allegations were methodically introduced, but arguably more surprising was the evidence introduced in court. First, it was surprising that Ghomeshi was able to present several pieces of evidence to discredit his accusers to the extent that it placed reasonable doubt on the veracity of their allegations in the view of the court (R v. Ghomeshi, 2016). This interested me because the alleged events that gave rise to the criminal charges occurred several years earlier. Yet, Ghomeshi still possessed several pieces of key evidence. As outlined in the trial decision, these key pieces of evidence consisted of various photographs, notes, and detailed records of phone calls and text messages (R v. Ghomeshi, 2016). This presents some very interesting theories about why Ghomeshi felt compelled to hold onto these records for as long as he did. Did Ghomeshi suspect that he would eventually need them some day?
Finally, the frequency at which the prosecuting Crown Attorney seemed surprised or frustrated at revelations during the criminal trial was equally surprising and interesting. For instance, the revelation that two of the complaints had conspired with each other prior to the trial about ‘taking down Ghomeshi’ (R v. Ghomeshi, 2016). Despite the complaints lying about the nature and extent of their conversations prior to the case (which is forbidden), the Crown Attorney was often left unaware that there was evidence of this collusion (Fraser, 2016). This is further evidenced by the Crown being forced to abandon an application to make a ‘similar fact’ case to strengthen the cases of each of the respective complainants (Fraser, 2016). Thus, a series of interesting questions arise from this situation that merit closer examination and consideration.
Chuck, E. (2017). #MeToo: Hashtag becomes anti-sexual harassment and assault rallying cry. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/sexual-misconduct/metoo-hashtag-becomes-anti-sexual-harassment-assault-rallying-cry-n810986
Fraser, L. (2016). Jian Ghomeshi trial questions answered by criminal lawyers. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ghomeshi-trial-crown-police-1.3444776
Ghomeshi, J. (2018). Reflections from a hashtag. The New York Review. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/10/11/reflections-hashtag/
MacMillan, J. (2014). Jian Ghomeshi allegation tracker: A timeline of the harassment and assault accusations. The Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/11/13/jian-ghomeshi-tips-allegation-tracker_n_6136136.html
McGuire, P. (2014). Jian Ghomeshi’s implosion was overdue. Vice News. https://www.vice.com/en/article/exm88w/jian-ghomeshis-implosion-was-overdue-903
- v. Ghomeshi. (2016). 2016 ONCH 155. CanLii. https://www.canlii.org/en/on/oncj/doc/2016/2016oncj155/2016oncj155.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQANamlhbiBnaG9tZXNoaQAAAAAB&resultIndex=1
Rubin, J. (2015). CBC workplace investigation regarding Jian Ghomeshi. https://site-cbc.radio-canada.ca/documents/media-centre/rubin-report-april-2015-en.pdf
Sealy-Harrington, J. (2016). Mastery or misogyny: The Ghomeshi judgement and sexual assault reform. Alberta Law. https://ablawg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Blog_JSH_Ghomeshi_April2016.pdf