TORONTO — Former CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi betrayed no emotion as he learned he had been found not guilty of all charges in connection with his high profile trial Thursday.
Ghomeshi, who faced four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking, was acquitted based on Justice William B. Horkins’ assertion that there was “outright deception” in the testimony brought forth by three complainants.
“The success of this prosecution depended entirely on the court being able to accept each complainant as a sincere, honest and accurate witness,” Horkins said in his decision.
“Each complainant was revealed at trial to be lacking in these important attributes. The evidence of each complainant suffered not just from inconsistencies and questionable behaviour, but was tainted by outright deception.”
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All three complainants were present with lawyers and numerous supporters in the courtroom during Horkins’ reading of his decision, while Ghomeshi’s family sat in the front row behind him.
Horkins said he reviewed each allegation against Ghomeshi separately when coming to his decision following the eight-day judge-only trial. He said the repeated inconsistencies in the statements of all three complainants did irreparable damage to their credibility.
“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,” Horkins said.
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“I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants. Put simply, the volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence leaves the court with a reasonable doubt.”
Horkins also said his conclusion that the evidence in the case raised reasonable doubt is “not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened.”
“At the end of this trial, a reasonable doubt exists because it is impossible to determine, with any acceptable degree of certainty or comfort, what is true and what is false,” he said.
“The standard of proof in a criminal case requires sufficient clarity in the evidence to allow a confident acceptance of the essential facts. In these proceedings the bedrock foundation of the Crown’s case is tainted and incapable of supporting any clear determination of the truth.”
Horkins added that each complainant “engaged in conduct” with Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults, which he said “seems out of harmony with the assaultive behaviour ascribed to him.”
“In many instances, their conduct and comments were even inconsistent with the level of animus exhibited by each of them, both at the time and then years later,” Horkins said, referencing emails, letters and flowers sent to Ghomeshi by the complainants after the alleged assaults.
“In a case that is entirely dependent on the reliability of their evidence standing alone, these are factors that cause me considerable difficulty when asked to accept their evidence at full value.”
Horkins said he had “no hesitation” in concluding that the quality of the evidence in the trial was “incapable of displacing the presumption of innocence.”
“The evidence fails to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
“I find Mr. Ghomeshi not guilty on all of these charges and they will be noted as dismissed.”
Crown lawyer Michael Callaghan told reporters outside the Old City Hall courthouse that he and his co-counsel “were not going to be making much of a statement” with regard to the decision, as they are still within the 30-day appeal period.
Ghomeshi, 48, pleaded not guilty to all charges in connection with allegations brought forth by the complainants, whose identities are protected under publication ban save for Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere who fought to have that ban lifted.
Ghomeshi’s sister Jila said outside the courthouse that the family was “relieved but not surprised” by Horkins’ decision.
“It can only be surprising to those who rushed to judgement before the trial even started, before a single word of evidence had been heard,” she said, adding that many people have analyzed the trial in “symbolic terms.”
“Jian is not a symbol to us, but a beloved brother and son. My mother and I love Jian very much. Our hardest 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.
“It has been extremely painful for those of us who love him,” she said. “Jian has, however, remained the person that we know and love. We hope that Jian and our family will be given the privacy and dignity to slowly heal from a process that has been extremely difficult.”
Read the full verdict below
Ghomeshi acknowledged in 2014 that he engaged in “rough sex” but said in a highly publicized Facebook post that it was consensual.
The former host of CBC’s Q faced a maximum sentence of 18 months behind bars for the sexual assault allegations, while the overcome resistance – choking charge carried a possible life sentence.
The first complainant testified Ghomeshi had pulled her hair “hard” in 2003 in an unprovoked nature while the two were in his car, adding that it had “felt like a rage that wasn’t there a second before he did it.”
DeCoutere, the second complainant, told the court she had been “pushed up against” a wall and slapped three times at Ghomeshi’s Toronto home in 2003.
While the third complainant later testified that while she was kissing Ghomeshi in a park in 2003, he suddenly bit her shoulder and started squeezing her neck with his hands.
Throughout the trial, defence lawyer Marie Henein aimed to systematically poke holes in the testimony of the three complainants and finished her closing remarks by saying the evidence presented fell short of “proving anything beyond a reasonable doubt,” before calling for an acquittal of Ghomeshi on all charges.
The tactic proved effective in raising reasonable doubt throughout the trial, which was evidenced in Horkins’ closing remarks.
“Each complainant demonstrated, to some degree, a willingness to ignore their oath to tell the truth on more than one occasion,” he said. “It is this aspect of their evidence that is most troubling to the court.”
Ghomeshi was fired by the CBC in 2014 amid what Horkins classified as the “Ghomeshi Scandal,” which he said triggered the complainants’ decision to come forward with allegations.
“The charges that were before the court in this trial and the judge’s ruling are unrelated to our decision to end Jian Ghomeshi’s employment with CBC,” the public broadcaster said in a statement Thursday.
“Based on the evidence that came to our attention, Mr. Ghomeshi’s actions were not in line with the values of the public broadcaster nor with our employee code of conduct. We stand by our decision.”
Ghomeshi declined to acknowledge his family in the front row as he had done on every day of the trial and left the courtroom quietly without acknowledging his acquittal in any discernible way.
He will face a second trial in June on a separate charge of sexual assault, which arose from an alleged incident in January 2008 while he was the host of Q.
A march and rally in support of sexual assault survivors will be held in downtown Toronto Thursday evening.