Summary: Justice William Horkins delivered a verdict of not guilty on all counts, which included four charges of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking. Demonstrators gathered on the courthouse steps and chanted “We Believe Survivors.” One topless protestor crashed the Crown’s scrum, in which attorney Michael Callaghan said he would consider the verdict over the long weekend and decide whether they would appeal.
The big moment: Justice Horkins spent over an hour reading out his 26-page judgement (read the full text here), which stated that he could not convict Ghomeshi because he did not feel the three complainants made credible and reliable witnesses. Since their testimonies offered the only evidence of assault, Horkins said he had to assess whether their accounts passed the extremely tough test of being proven beyond a reasonable doubt. They failed to meet that test. “The cross-examination dramatically demonstrated that each complainant was less than full, frank and forthcoming in the information they provided to the media, to the police, to Crown counsel and to this court,” he read aloud, as the three complainants and Ghomeshi’s family looked on from the front bench. “Ultimately, my assessment of each of the counts against the accused turns entirely on the assessment of the reliability and credibility of the complainant.”
Witness 1, he said, gave a “rational and balanced” testimony to the Crown, but suffered “irreparable damage” when Ghomeshi lawyer Marie Henein put to her a number of “inconsistencies and incongruous and deceptive conduct,” including the make and colour of Ghomeshi’s car and whether she was pushed or pulled down to the ground during the second alleged assault. Lucy DeCoutere — the only witness to waive her publication ban — exhibited “odd behaviour” after the alleged assault, according to Horkins, including sending Ghomeshi flowers and writing him emails and the “love letter” which she signed-off by writing “I love your hands.” “It is evidence that is out of harmony with her evidence-in-chief,” which claimed she had no romantic interest in Ghomeshi after the incident. Justice Horkins suggested both DeCoutere and Witness 3 (who both gave late disclosure) actively “suppressed” evidence because they felt telling the whole truth might undermine their claims of assault. Justice Horkins agreed with Henein, that “[Witness 3] was clearly ‘playing chicken’ with the justice system” by waiting until the 11th hour to tell the Crown she had given Ghomeshi a hand job in the weeks after the alleged assault.
The case, in the end, was “tainted by outright deception” not to mention “inconsistencies and questionable behaviour,” said Horkins.
“The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the Court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth.” It’s “impossible,” he said, to believe these witnesses.
Justice Horkins said very little regarding the wider impact of this decision — whether it would deter women from coming forward with sexual assault complaints, just that the court can’t apply “false stereotypes” about how a victim should behave. “I have a firm understanding that the reasonableness of reactive human behaviour in the dynamics of a relationship can be variable and unpredictable. 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.”
Ghomeshi: Ghomeshi leaned forward in his chair and listened intently as Justice Horkins read his decision aloud. When he uttered the words “I find Mr. Ghomeshi not guilty on all of these charges,” his shoulders dropped and his face remained neutral. His eyes looked moist as he hugged his mother first, then sister and five other supporters seated in the front row behind him. He made no comments to the media when he left the courthouse.
In the courtroom: The three complainants left court with tears in their eyes after Justice Horkins delivered his verdict.
Outside the courtroom: After the verdict, Witness 1 told Chatelaine she was “disappointed in how [Justice Horkins] presented his judgment. I was insulted. I never thought he would be convicted, but this was an insult to women.” Ghomeshi’s sister, Jila, told reporters, “Our highest burden has been our feeling of helplessness as we have watched him endure a punishment that was delivered not only prior to a verdict, but prior to any semblance of due process for well over a year.” Demonstrators charged the steps of Old City Hall with placards reading “I Believe Survivors.” A hashtag campaign with the same words proliferated online and a protest march organized to take place in front of the courthouse early Thursday evening.
Up next: Ghomeshi will return to court in June as his second sexual assault trial begins — this one with regards to a complaint made by a former CBC producer who worked with him on Q.