Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking Thursday, but a Toronto lawyer said the complainants could still bring a civil case against the former CBC radio host.
Erin Ellis, an attorney with Jellinek Law who represents sexual assault victims, says it would be “possible” for the three women to file a civil claim against Ghomeshi.
“A finding of not guilty does not preclude a civil claim,” Ellis told Global News. “It’s a different balance of proof. In a civil claim it’s whether it’s more probable than not where in a criminal case it’s beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ontario Judge William Horkins said in his ruling the evidence from all three women not only suffered from inconsistencies, but was “tainted by outright deception.”
“Each complainant was revealed at trial to be lacking in these important attributes,” Horkins wrote. “The evidence of each complainant suffered not just from inconsistencies and questionable behaviour, but was tainted by outright deception.”
Ghomeshi, 48, had pleaded not guilty to all charges in connection with allegations brought by the complainants, whose identities are protected under publication ban, with the exception of Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere, who fought to have that ban lifted.
Ellis advised the women in the case to consult with a lawyer following Thursday’s decision before going the civil route.
“Not guilty does not mean innocent. It does not mean that it didn’t happen,” she said. “It means not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
She said a civil action involves contacting a lawyer who assesses whether to proceed with a lawsuit.
“Typically you wouldn’t sue unless there is going to be compensation at the end,” Ellis said.
“Unfortunately, all a civil court can award is compensation. If somebody’s perpetrator does not have any money and there is no other institution to find at fault there may be no point in civil court, because you would be going through a very invasive process.”
Crown lawyer Michael Callaghan told reporters outside the courthouse that he would not be making a statement on the decision. He has 30 days to file an appeal in the case.
Reaction to the court decision was swift, with people taking to social media and many posting angry and shocked responses.
Ghomeshi and his lawyer did not comment following today’s verdict. He will face a second trial in June on a separate charge of sexual assault from an alleged incident in January 2008 while he was the host of the CBC radio show Q.
A rally in support of sexual assault survivors will be held in downtown Toronto Thursday evening.
Ellis said that whatever impact the trial will have on future cases she hopes the public conversation around sexual assault continues.
“The public support and the rallying behind survivors in general after the allegations came out and the conversation that started I hope that it continues,” she said. “It has allowed misconceptions surrounding sexual assault to be discussed, victim blaming, issues around consent, and issues around behaviours.”