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Thousands of messages between Ghomeshi complainants 'worrisome:' Harnett

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault trial is hearing that two of the complainants who testified against the disgraced broadcaster discussed the allegations in thousands of messages they exchanged before and after they went to police.

The third woman to testify against Ghomeshi said earlier on Monday that while she and ``Trailer Park Boys'' actress Lucy DeCoutere – who testified last week – were friends, they did not discuss the sexual assault allegations involving the former CBC Radio host.

But during an intense cross-examination, the woman, who can not be identified, said that she did in fact discuss the allegations with DeCoutere.

Ghomeshi's lawyer Marie Heinen noted that the two women had exchanged 5,000 messages, beginning on Oct. 29, 2014 – the same day DeCoutere went public with her allegations.

Heinen said the woman reported the alleged assault to police in December 2014, and the correspondence with DeCoutere continued until September 2015.

In some of the messages, DeCoutere instructs the woman to contact the actress's lawyer and her publisher. In others, she gives the woman a ``detailed and lengthy breakdown'' of her own meetings with the Crown.

The woman testified earlier on Monday that Ghomeshi bit her shoulder and put his hands around her neck as they were making out in a Toronto park.

The woman, who was 32 years old at the time, said she had consented to the kissing, but she had not agreed to what followed.

``He was kissing my neck and I just felt all of a sudden I felt his hand on my shoulders and his teeth. And then his hands were around my neck and he was squeezing,'' the woman said in a trembling voice.

``Some kind of switch felt like it had happened. It wasn't the same person there. I tried to get out of it and then his hand was on my mouth, sort of smothering me.''

The woman said the alleged incident happened in the early 2000s, shortly after they first met at a dance festival in Toronto.

She was with other people at the community event when Ghomeshi approached her from behind and rested his arms on her shoulders. When asked by someone how they knew each other, she said Ghomeshi replied ``We're engaged.''

``We weren't,'' the woman told court on Monday ``It was taking ownership of me in some way that was just surprising. It was a familiarity that was surprising to me.''

Ghomeshi and the woman went out for dinner after that interaction, and on another night, met in an isolated part of a city park where they began kissing on a bench.

It was while they were kissing that the alleged assault took place, court heard.

She said as soon as she freed herself from his hold, she left the park without saying a word, got into a cab and went home.

``My instinct was to just sort of get out of it physically,'' she said. ``There was nothing about this that I wanted to be a part of. It didn't feel safe or sexy.''

She met again with Ghomeshi for dinner and drinks and then they went back to her place for ``romantic'' interactions.

The woman said she did not tell police about that night when she initially came forward because she had been embarrassed and didn't think the encounter was relevant.

When pressed further on why she would have Ghomeshi come back to her place after he had allegedly assaulted her, the woman said the former CBC host was a charmer.

Some time later, the woman said she went to a party with Ghomeshi where he repeatedly berated one of her close friends. The incident set off ``warning bells'' for the woman and resulted in an argument.

``I got out of the car, slammed the door, told him he was crazy, told him to never call me again,'' she said.

The woman said she didn't go to police with her allegations in 2003 because she wanted to put the incident behind her.

``I just wanted it gone. I wasn't sure that there was anything to go on,'' she said, adding that she also didn't want to jeopardize the career of her brother, who was in the arts industry.

``I didn't want to be the hysterical sister...I thought if I just keep myself out of the line of fire then it's probably best for everybody.''

It was only when she read news reports about other women making similar allegations following the CBC's dismissal of Ghomeshi in October 2014 that the woman decided to speak out.

``I realized that I wasn't an isolated incident,'' she said. ``It was time to talk.''

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett says in any case with multiple complainants, the question for the court is often, “Have they had a chance to communicate with other witnesses before giving their testimony, and if so, has that communication influenced it?”  

“Multiple similar independent accounts of a unique event can bolster the credibility as individual complainants,” he tells the online legal newspaper. “The opposite effect is also possible, where there is some evidence that the complainants had the chance to shape their testimony by comparing notes.”

Harnett, who is commenting generally about the Ghomeshi trial and isn’t involved in the proceedings, says 5000 messages between witnesses during the crucial pre-trial period during which meetings with prosecutors and police may take place, is “very worrisome.”

He points to how the trial has highlighted an issue about the media coverage of the proceedings and the effectiveness of orders excluding witnesses from the courtroom before they take the stand.

“It is commonplace for the court to make an order at the outset of a trial that witnesses yet to testify are prohibited from being in the courtroom until they have completed their testimony,” he says. “This is designed to ensure that no witnesses hear the previous testimony that could shape what they say in court. The only one exempt is the accused, who must remain in the courtroom during the whole of the trial.”

Harnett notes that since the testimony is being published simultaneously through Twitter posts, any witness can read the feeds and know exactly what was going on inside the courtroom. 

“It is therefore possible that witnesses may read every word of testimony by previous witnesses before taking the stand because the court order is typically not worded in a way that would clearly prohibit witnesses from reading the Twitter feed of the trial. Even if it did, it would be impossible to police,” he says. 

The 48-year-old former CBC Radio star has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault, and one count of overcome resistance by choking.

He acknowledged in 2014 that he engaged in rough sex acts, but said it was consensual.

– With files from AdvocateDaily.com 

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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