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Jian Ghomeshi, Disgraced CBC Host, Starts Trial

The once-lauded Canadian radio host, Jian Ghomeshi, is now facing his accusers in a Toronto courthouse today. Ghomeshi was once the lead vocalist for Canadian band Moxy Fruvous, and was the voice behind the CBC hit radio show, Q. Now, however, Ghomeshi is a man who stands accused of sexual assault and choking charges as his trial begins.

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Law professor Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa told the Globe and Mail that she understood the difficulties inherent for women in pressing charges against Ghomeshi.

“For me, the difficulty is that we tend, as a society, to just come at this with a disbelief of what women say,” she said, adding that the charges Ghomeshi is facing date back to 2002 and 2003. “When you put the added problem of a distance in time on top of that, it does indeed become very challenging to prove inside a criminal justice system that tends not to believe the women to start with.”

Backhouse’s belief does not appear to be wrong. According to the Toronto Star, University of Ottawa professor Holly Johnson said 460,000 women self-reported a sexual assault to police in 2004, while during the 2006 fiscal year, only 1,519 men were convicted for the crime. Johnson says this is often because after an initial investigation, police say that the charges are “unfounded” and the charges are often dropped.

Ghomeshi’s defense lawyer, Marie Henein, is also drawing some fire on social media for her decision to represent the beleaguered former broadcaster.

The testimony from one of the witnesses says that Ghomeshi punched her and pulled her hair during their encounter at his house following their date. In addition to submitting her complaint to the police about Ghomeshi’s behavior, CBC reports that the witness told Henein that she had given three separate interviews to the media, although the interviewing officer told her she should not. The interviews were given to CBC Radio, CBC’s The National, and the Toronto Star, and were instigated by the witness herself rather than the media outlets reaching out to her.

The witness, whose complaints represent two of the sexual assault charges against Ghomeshi, told the court that she had been confused by the radio host’s behavior.

“It felt almost like a rage that wasn’t there the second before he did it,” she said, according to National Post. “It was painful and sudden …. It was very confusing, I was thinking perhaps he doesn’t know his own strength.”

Lucy DeCoutere of Trailer Park Boys fought to have her identity disclosed as part of the trial. Judge William Horkins agreed to lift the identity ban on many of the media exhibits, so long as the exhibits did not violate the ban on identifying two of the three complainants.

CBC personality Jonathan Torrens gave a shout out to DeCoutere for coming forward in an effort to bring Ghomeshi to justice.

Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Henein, was not impressed with DeCoutere, however, noting that the actress has given 24 interviews about Ghomeshi since the news broke about the sexual assault charges.

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Backhouse said that the Canadian criminal justice system was not generally well known for a high sexual assault conviction rate, so there was a significant burden on the justice system as a result.

“The conviction rate for sexual assault is one of the very lowest of all the crimes in Canada. There are a lot of women out there who aren’t believed. There are a lot of disincentives to report,” she said. “We have a criminal justice system where the playing field is definitely unbalanced, it’s not fair. And that’s one of the reasons women don’t disclose.”

Backhouse also acknowledged that Henein was not exactly new to law, and was a very good defense lawyer. While Ghomeshi could afford that kind of legal defense, there were many in Canada who could not.

“Ghomeshi’s criminal defence team is pretty good,” she said. “That’s another interesting thing: Who in our system can afford to pay for that level of defence? And it certainly is not available to indigenous people, to racialized people, to poor people. They don’t have nearly the same resources to go into one of these trials.”

Ghomeshi’s sexual assault trial continues.

[Photo by Brenda Lee/Flickr | CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]