Is Jian Ghomeshi still Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Since the news about Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged crimes and dismissal from the CBC broke last Sunday the most common refrain from his defenders has been ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It’s worth remembering, however, that falsely accusing someone of a crime is also illegal and the eight or, possibly, 9 women who have accused Jian of assault or harassment so far are also innocent until proven guilty. In other words, if we're going to adhere to the concept of presumed innocence, we cannot extend it to Ghomeshi, without also extending it to the alleged victims.

There has been no further statement from Ghomeshi’s camp since Sunday. On his side we are still left with a statement on Facebook, a lawsuit against the CBC and a formal union grievance.

The union grievance is pretty standard. Anyone can file a union grievance. It cannot, however, win him his old job back. In a best case scenario it could return him to the CBC’s employ but it cannot force the CBC to reinstate him at Q. If forced to reinstate his employment, CBC management could have him reading hourly news updates during the overnight hours on weekends.

The $55 million lawsuit is without merit, according to analysts. Reviews of the case from BNN and the National Post show that the case will likely be withdrawn or thrown out by courts without a hearing. The Post’s Gordon Levitt goes so far as to suggest that the case is a Machiavellian public relations move meant to discourage possible victims from coming forward. 

Given that they have already been painted by Ghomeshi’s version of events as being into BDSM kink — something they may not even be, or may not want known to friends and family — how quickly will any accusers come forward publicly now and risk being joined to this outsized action,” asked Levitt.

Finally we have the widely read and circulated Facebook statement describing a judgemental, intrusive ex-employer, a jilted-ex and a taste for consensual “BDSM”.

When I wrote last Sunday that people should withhold judgement, that was all of the information we had. Shortly after I published that piece, the Toronto Star published the allegations of four women, all of whom claimed that they had been beaten or harassed by Ghomeshi. Since that time, four more women have come forward with the same claim. A Twitter account suggests a possible 9th victim, but it is not clear yet that the woman behind the account is not one of the 8 who has already come forward.

The statements from the women do not, as Ghomeshi's Facebook post indicates, describe a "jilted ex" but a number of women with similar complaints. They do not describe private bedroom behavior but a series of criminal acts and workplace sexual harassment. They do not describe BDSM, kink or even sex but simple straight-forward assault and battery.  Even if this activity were, as Ghomeshi claims, consensual, it would not matter. The law in Canada does not permit someone to consent to assault or physical harm.

In addition to the complaints from alleged victims, Ghomeshi’s friend Owen Pallett has openly and unreservedly denounced Jian's behavior. "Jian is my friend. I have appeared twice on Q. But there is no grey area here. Three women have been beaten by Jian Ghomeshi," says Pallett in a statement. "At no point here will I ever give my friend Jian’s version of the truth more creedence than the version of the truth offered up by three women. Anonymity does not mean these women do not exist."

Pallett was one of the first to sign a petition to show support for Ghomeshi's alleged victims. The early signatories of the statement include many prominent names in the Canadian music community, including friends of Ghomeshi's and many past guests of his show Q.  There have also been posts like this one about whispered rumors going back a decade.

What seems to be conspicuously missing is friends of Jian rushing forward to defend him or women who have dated Ghomeshi coming forward with stories of what a positive experience it was. The exception to this is Lights, a singer who calls Ghomeshi her manager, who posted an early statement of support.

So, is Ghomeshi still "innocent until proven guilty"? Yes he is. If he weren't he would be in prison. In reality, unless more women come forward, or some of those already on record decide to file charges, this particular case will likely never see a courtroom, civil or criminal.

People will ultimately be left to make up their own minds and it doesn't matter very much what you and I think. Our curiosity and appetite for scandal are not an important part of the equation.

It does matter to some extent what the CBC thinks, but Ghomeshi doesn't need to be convicted of a crime to lose his job. People lose their jobs all the time without having been convicted of a crime. The CBC has the right to decide what its 'public face' should look like and many contracts for television and radio personalities contain codes of conduct or 'morality clauses' which allow the employer to act if questionable personal behavior should come to light or become public.

Even if the CBC were to return Ghomeshi to Q it wouldn't be the same show. Potential guests and production crew would have second thoughts about associating themselves with it. Guests, production crew and the audience would be continually distracted by the allegations and the public and politicians would question the CBC's wisdom in bringing Ghomeshi back.

However, Q and the CBC aren't that important in this case either. The people whose opinions matter are Mr. Ghomeshi and his alleged victims. Those are the people and the only people who know the absolute truth of this and the only people who are ever likely to.

Ghomeshi knows whether the stories are true or not and if they are, if any of them are, he needs to act on it and get help. I do not mean the Hollywood version of getting help; checking in to a resort & spa disguised as a rehab center for 30 days and then declaring yourself reborn.

If the stories that these women are telling are true, or even mostly true, Ghomeshi has mentally lost sight of the line between sex and violence. It is not a "kink", it is not "bdsm" and it is not sex. It is violent physical assault, it is criminal and it is not his "private life" or "personal business".

If there is truth to the allegations, regardless of consensually, Ghomeshi should make a serious, personal, long term commitment to getting the psychological care that he needs up to and including having himself committed to a facility where he can get full time care. He should also, effective immediately, avoid situations where he might have the opportunity to harm others.

Finally, there are the alleged victims of abuse. Women who feel that they were victimized by Ghomeshi should be able to come forward and share their stories. Those stories should be given the same consideration and credibility that Jian's Facebook post last Sunday was given. The fact that they are not nationally known radio personalities takes nothing away from their personal credibility and should take nothing away from their perceived honesty.

The thing that, in the long term, matters most in this case is how we treat the people involved. The fact that these women were afraid to come forward or use their names paints a picture of a broken criminal justice system. It does not matter if we have a health care system if people are afraid to go to the hospital. It does not matter if we have a public education system if people are afraid to go to school and it does not matter if we have a criminal justice system if the victims of crime are afraid to go to the police.

Individuals who report crime need to be treated with respect and have their claims taken seriously regardless of their age, gender or the nature of the crime. Those who threaten, belittle, insult or harass individuals reporting crimes are actively encouraging crime, violence and abuse and eroding the justice system.

It would not be unreasonable to pass laws against threatening or harassing individuals who report crimes. The people who belittle or attempt to intimidate the victims of alleged crime are aiding and abetting criminals and the law should reflect that.

Next Post »