Criminal Law

Ghomeshi complainants' lack of credibility damaging for victims

While it's "commendable" that complainant No. 1 in the Jian Ghomeshi case has waived her right to a publication ban on her name so she can advocate for change in the justice system, Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says that doesn't change the fact that the three key accusers in the case "damaged" how women feel about reporting.

“I applaud her decision to want to make the legal system more user-friendly,” Gadhia tells AdvocateDaily.com.

But she says the lack of credibility of the three complainants in this matter did all women a disservice; Justice William Horkins in his judgment said it was difficult for him to trust them due to their "suppression" of evidence and "deceptions" under oath.

"It had a major impact on the outcome of the trial," Gadhia says.

She weighs in on the issue after Horkins lifted the publication ban on Linda Redgrave’s name after her request, reports CBC. He lifted the ban three weeks after the former CBC Radio host was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one of choking to overcome resistance. The charges related to Redgrave, Lucy DeCoutere and a third complainant, whose name continues to be protected under a publication ban, reports the public broadcaster.

DeCoutere is the only complainant who waived the automatic publication ban on her name prior to the start of the trial.

Redgrave, who met Ghomeshi in December 2002, was one of the first to speak to the media — she did so anonymously — before police laid charges in October 2014, says the article.

"At that point, I still didn't know what I wanted. But in the back of my mind I thought, 'One day I want people to know who I am,'" Redgrave told CBC News. "It's not because I want sympathy and it's not because I want everyone to [know], 'Hey, I'm Witness Number One.' It's because I'm holding myself to my intention of helping others."

The day before Horkins acquitted Ghomeshi, Redgrave published the website ComingForward.ca, which includes links to health and legal resources for sexual assault survivors, a blog about her experience at trial, and a section for men and women to submit stories about their experiences, says CBC.

Redgrave says she wishes she had a better understanding of how her police statement would be presented in court, says the article. While she had a lawyer to prepare her for trial, she said she did not have legal counsel when she gave her first statement to police. That statement largely determined the narrative of her allegations, she said.

Among the changes she would like to see made to the justice system, Redgrave said sex-crimes units should provide complainants with written guidelines that explain the legal process and she hopes police will encourage witnesses to get legal advice before being interviewed.

"This statement is going to court and this is the only statement you're going to have. I didn't know that," she said. "I thought it was the green light to investigate."

Redgrave also said she wants to revise the first point of contact that complainants generally have with the legal system, which is their meeting with the police.

"The accused gets arrested, they get read their rights," she said. "But a witness doesn't. They don't know their rights."

Gadhia takes exception to Redgrave's assertions that complainants aren't informed of their rights or that police don't stress the importance of a statement.

“Complainants are given a clear understanding of what to expect, including that they will be testifying in court and that they will be examined by lawyers. It is stressed to them that they have to tell the truth," she says.

Gadhia says there already exists supports for complainants, including Victim Services, to help them navigate the legal system. In addition, police officers are trained not to interrogate a complainant and to make sure they understand they have opportunities to give as many statements as they want.

She says all three complainants in the Ghomeshi matter would have had ample opportunities to give their stories, to discuss the details with their lawyer, the Crown, the police and even to tell the judge what happened during their testimony.

"They could have raised any of these issues before cross-examination," Gadhia says. "And even during cross examination, they withheld some information until they were faced with evidence from the defence – that to me is where their failure lay.

"For Redgrave to say she never had the opportunity to tell her story is disingenuous. She had ample opportunity."

Some say the case left the perception that women “don't get a fair shake and will be abused by the legal system, but this is simply not true,” says Gadhia.

She says that while there is always room for improvement in the criminal justice system, she notes much of the conversation following the Ghomeshi matter about the treatment of sexual assault victims wouldn’t be taking place if the witnesses in that case simply were more credible.

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