Ghomeshi was a popular CBC Radio broadcaster with a loyal following before he became engulfed in scandal in late 2014.
Born in England to Iranian parents, Ghomeshi moved to the Toronto region with his family as a child. He first found himself in the public eye in the early 1990s as a member of the quirky folk-pop band Moxy Früvous. In 2002, Ghomeshi shifted to broadcasting and became the host of an arts-oriented CBC program called >play. He went on to several other positions before launching his own arts and culture talk show on CBC Radio One in 2007 called Q. Ghomeshi became known as a skilled interviewer who could draw out interesting stories from his high-profile guests. Q was broadcast nationally in Canada and syndicated in the United States.
The first public indication of Ghomeshi’s legal troubles surfaced on 24 October 2014, when the CBC issued a statement saying that he was taking an undetermined amount of time away from the network “to deal with some personal issues.” Ghomeshi tweeted he was “OK” and taking some “much needed personal time.”
Two days later the CBC announced that it had cut ties with Ghomeshi after receiving “information” that “precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian.” That same day, Ghomeshi issued a lengthy Facebook post saying he had engaged in “rough sex” but that it was always consensual. He went on to say he had been fired from CBC because of the risk that his sex life would become public “as a result of a campaign of false allegations.”
On 27 October, the Toronto Star published an article detailing allegations from three women who said Ghomeshi had been physically violent to them without their consent before or during sexual encounters. Several media reports followed in the ensuing days, carrying similar allegations from other women.
Five days after Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC, Toronto police said they had opened an investigation into the radio host after two women came forward with complaints. That same day, the CBC issued a memo to staff saying it had seen "graphic evidence” that Ghomeshi had caused physical harm to a woman.
On 26 November 2014, exactly a month after being fired from the CBC, Ghomeshi was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He was granted bail and his lawyer said he would plead not guilty.
On 8 January 2015, three new charges of sexual assault were laid against Ghomeshi. The alleged offences behind all the charges were said to have occurred between 2002 and 2008.
In May, two of the sexual assault charges were dropped. Ghomeshi pleaded not guilty to the five remaining charges in October 2015.
The charges were split into two criminal trials to take place in Toronto: the first in February 2016, on four counts of sexual assault and the choking charge; the second in June 2016, on one count of sexual assault. The Crown prosecutor's office said that charge was being tried separately because the alleged offence took place in a different factual context.
First Criminal Trial
The first trial, heard by a judge alone, began on 1 February 2016 at the Ontario Court of Justice. Justice William Horkins presided over the case, which drew large crowds to a downtown Toronto courthouse over the two weeks that evidence was presented.
Ghomeshi was represented by Marie Henein, a high-profile attorney known for her razor-sharp skills in the courtroom, and her co-counsel Danielle Robitaille. The Crown prosecutors in the case were Michael Callaghan, a career Crown lawyer, and his co-counsel Corie Langdon.
The bulk of evidence in the case came from the testimony of three women complainants, whose allegations led to the charges Ghomeshi faced. One of the women waived her right to a ban on the publication of her identity — a right typically extended to complainants in sexual assault cases.
The first woman said she was 41 when she met Ghomeshi at a holiday party in 2002 where, after appearing charming, he invited her to a taping of his CBC show >play. The woman testified that in December 2002 she went to a taping and then to a pub with Ghomeshi, after which they ended up kissing in his car, which is when the first alleged assault took place.
The woman said Ghomeshi abruptly grabbed her hair “really, really hard” and then said words to the effect of “do you like it like that.” The woman said she was confused by the incident, which she called “painful and sudden,” but still kissed Ghomeshi goodbye because he had reverted to being a “nice guy.”
The woman said she went to another taping of Ghomeshi’s show, where nothing significant happened, and then to a third one with a friend in January 2003. After going to a pub and then dropping her friend off, the woman went with Ghomeshi to his home where they began kissing in his living room, when the second alleged assault took place. The woman said Ghomeshi suddenly pulled her hair “extremely hard” and then started punching her in the head. She said she was terrified and in pain, ended up on her knees and started to cry, at which point Ghomeshi told her she should leave and called her a cab.
The woman said she didn't go to police until 2014 because she didn't think anyone would listen. She also said she didn’t have further dealings with Ghomeshi, except for one email written in anger which she couldn’t recall if she sent or not. During cross-examination, however, Ghomeshi’s defence lawyer confronted the woman with two friendly emails she had sent Ghomeshi a year after, and 18 months after, the alleged assaults; one of the emails included a photograph of herself in a bikini.
The woman explained she sent the emails as “bait” in the hopes Ghomeshi would contact her so she could confront him about the alleged assaults. She also testified that she didn’t remember these emails when she discussed her complaints with police and prosecutors.
Lucy DeCoutere, an actress in the television comedy Trailer Park Boys and a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force, was the second complainant to testify against Ghomeshi. She waived her right to a publication ban on her identity.
DeCoutere testified that she first met Ghomeshi in the summer of 2003 at a conference in Banff, Alberta where, after slightly flirty conversations, Ghomeshi gave her his business card.
Ghomeshi lived in Toronto at the time and DeCoutere in Halifax, but the two emailed and phoned each other over the next month until DeCoutere made a trip to Toronto with plans to spend time with Ghomeshi. The trial heard that the pair went out for dinner and then walked to Ghomeshi’s house, although DeCoutere noted she had no intention of having sex with him. DeCoutere testified that Ghomeshi gave her a tour of his home and suddenly started kissing her in his bedroom. She said Ghomeshi then grabbed her by the throat, pushed her up against a wall and hit her face repeatedly with an open hand. DeCoutere said she did not consent to being choked or slapped and was stunned by what had happened.
After the alleged incident, DeCoutere said she didn’t leave immediately because she “wanted to placate the situation,” and didn’t want to appear rude. She also said Ghomeshi didn’t seem to acknowledge what had happened. DeCoutere said she and Ghomeshi had subsequent interactions after that night, but she said she had no romantic interest in him.
Ghomeshi's lawyer accused DeCoutere of failing to clearly tell police and prosecutors until after the trial began, that she had continued to interact with Ghomeshi following the alleged attack. DeCoutere said she hadn't understood the importance of explaining this to authorities.
Henein also accused DeCoutere of leaving out key points. She produced a series of emails, and a letter from DeCoutere to Ghomeshi, which the actress said she did not remember until they were presented in court. In one email, sent the day after the alleged assault, DeCoutere wrote “you kicked my ass last night” and expressed a desire to have sex with Ghomeshi. After showing the email to DeCoutere, Henein suggested that what happened in Ghomeshi’s home was not sexual assault.
Henein then produced a hand-written letter DeCoutere had sent to Ghomeshi after her trip to Toronto, in which DeCoutere said she was “sad” they hadn't spent the night together, and she expressed her desire to “have more fun and easy times” with Ghomeshi. In the last line of the letter DeCoutere wrote: “I love your hands.” When asked to explain, DeCoutere said she was “pointing love” to the very thing Ghomeshi used to hurt her.
The third woman to testify against Ghomeshi said she first met him at a Toronto dance festival in the summer of 2003; he came up behind her while she was talking to a small group and rested his arms on her shoulders. When asked how they knew each other, the woman said Ghomeshi replied “we’re engaged.”
The woman, who was 32 at the time, said that not long after that encounter, she met Ghomeshi in a park one night. She said they began kissing on a bench when her alleged assault took place. She testified that she suddenly felt Ghomeshi’s teeth on her shoulder and his hands squeezing her neck. She said when she tried to get out of his grip he put a hand on her mouth. The woman said she had consented to the kissing but not to what followed, and left the park shortly after.
She said that she went out for dinner and drinks with Ghomeshi a few days later, and they then went back to her home where a sexual encounter took place. The woman said she only told police about the encounter after Ghomeshi’s trial began, because it had been consensual and she had been embarrassed. When questioned by Ghomeshi’s lawyer about her omission, however, the woman accepted that she deliberately misled investigators by withholding information. She also said that her dates with Ghomeshi ended after they went to a party where he kept berating her best friend, something which set off “warning bells” for her.
The trial also heard that after allegations began surfacing about Ghomeshi in late 2014, the woman became friends with DeCoutere. However, she said they did not discuss details of their individual allegations against Ghomeshi. Later under cross-examination, however, the woman admitted she and DeCoutere did, in fact, discuss their specific allegations, and their shared hatred of Ghomeshi, in thousands of messages exchanged before and after they went to police.
Ghomeshi did not step into the witness box to testify in his own defence, as was his legal right, and his lawyers did not call any witnesses of their own. In closing arguments to the judge, the Crown said the three women at the core of the case were “unshaken” in their allegations against Ghomeshi. Meanwhile, Ghomeshi’s lawyers argued that the complainants were inconsistent witnesses who all lied under oath.
The credibility and reliability of the three complainants were key issues in the case. Henein argued the Crown had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that Ghomeshi was entitled to an acquittal on all counts. The Crown said that the credibility of the three complainants had nothing to do with the way they acted after the alleged incidents. “Post-assault behaviour should not be used in the assessment of a complainant's credibility,'' Callaghan said. “Each of the complainants reacted to the sexual assault in their own unique ways.''
Henein argued that the fact that the women lied under oath — and not their continued interactions with Ghomeshi — was the key issue in the case. “What a witness cannot do is lie and conceal their conduct and then when caught out say, 'Oh geez that's just how victims of abuse behave,'" she said.
Ghomeshi’s case raised questions about why victims of sexual assault might stay silent for years before making complaints to the police. It also threw a national spotlight on how complainants may be treated inside a courtroom.
The gruelling cross-examinations each woman went through during the trial drew cringes of discomfort from some observers, although advocates for survivors of sexual violence said they weren’t surprised at the intensity of the proceedings.
In the first trial, a verdict of not guilty on all charges was delivered on 24 March 2016. In his decision, Justice William Horkins questioned the credibility of the three complainants, stating that their testimony was “less than full, frank and forthcoming.”
Ghomeshi's second trial, on a remaining charge of sexual assault, was scheduled for June. However, the charge was dropped on 11 May, when Ghomeshi signed a peace bond — committing to be of good behaviour and avoid contact with a fourth complainant, his former CBC co-worker Kathryn Borel. Ghomeshi also apologized to Borel in court, saying his behaviour towards Borel when they worked together was "sexually inappropriate."
Essay in New York Review of Books
In September 2018, the New York Review of Books published online an essay by Jian Ghomeshi titled “Reflections from a Hashtag.” In the article, he wrote about his life following the trial, reflecting on his journey from Canadian celebrity to “outcast.” He also apologized for his treatment of some people but maintained that he could not confess to “inaccurate” accusations. The backlash on social media was swift. Many felt that the essay was designed to elicit sympathy for Ghomeshi, who reflected that he had had suicidal thoughts after the allegations surfaced in 2014. They were also offended by his remarks about the #MeToo movement: "I've become a hashtag. One of my female friends quips that I should get some kind of public recognition as a #MeToo pioneer. There are lots of guys more hated than me now. But I was the guy everyone hated first."
Many social media users also criticized the decision of Review editor Ian Buruma to publish the essay. Buruma defended his decision in an interview with Isaac Chotiner for Slate magazine, stating that he felt it provided an angle on the #MeToo movement that had received little attention.
I think nobody has quite figured out what should happen in cases like his, where you have been legally acquitted but you are still judged as undesirable in public opinion, and how far that should go, how long that should last, and whether people should make a comeback or can make a comeback at all — there are no hard and fast rules. That’s an issue we should be thinking about.
By the end of September, Buruma had left the New York Review of Books. The magazine posted a lengthy note atop Ghomeshi’s essay, which began by stating, “The following article, which has provoked much criticism, should have included acknowledgment of the serious nature and number of allegations that had been made against the writer…” The note went on to provide details about the allegations, charges, trial and out-of-court settlement.