A researcher studying public reaction to the Jian Ghomeshi case says social media scrutiny of the trial could lead to “crowd-sourced reforms” for how the legal system handles sexual assault claims.
Mary Rolf, a law student at Dalhousie University, presented her findings in a panel at an international law conference in Halifax Tuesday.
“I think it’s unprecedented,” Rolf told the room. “You don’t usually hear ordinary Canadians commenting on whether they think the justice system is fair.”
Rolf said the high-profile case against the former CBC radio host gave social media spectators a rare glimpse into how the criminal justice system works.
“It was an opportunity for Canada to really observe sexual assault law processes at work,” she said in an interview. “(There was) lots of very valid disagreement about what could or should change.”
During the February trial, social media sites lit up with hashtags like #Ghomeshi and #IBelieveLucy, spurring a fractious debate about the case and Canada’s sexual assault laws.
Many media outlets live-tweeted the case, with people inside the courtroom responding to social media users’ questions as the trial unfolded online.
“Especially for Canadians without legal training … it was a great example of people getting engaged in what they were unhappy with,” she said. “I think social media could be such a great forum to poll people’s real-time reactions.”
She said the unprecedented engagement in issues surrounding sexual assault represents a shift in Canadian values that could make its way into the law books as a result of mounting pressure for change.
“Law is reciprocal,” Rolf said. “It’s just as much about people saying, ‘This is the society I want to live in,’ as it is about the letter of the law.”