A misremembered car, uncertainty over a kiss, who was “smitten” with whom, and the mystery of a set of hair extensions dominated the first day of the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial.
Score one point for defence lawyer Marie Henein. Zero for the prosecution. As the afternoon wore on, Henein raised one after another issue with the first complainant’s testimony, nibbling around the edges of her credibility. Tuesday, Henein is expected to tackle the more substantive issue: Does her story of being punched three times in Ghomeshi’s Riverdale home in 2003 hold water?
Monday at 10 a.m., at about the time Ghomeshi once would have been interviewing his second guest on CBC's Q, the former media star took his seat at the defence table. Procedural items — yes, the media can access exhibits — were out of the way quickly, thanks to the efficient Justice William B. Horkins. Then the Crown attorney, Michael Callaghan, called the first witness.
Ghomeshi is charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The woman, a struggling actor and part-time cocktail hostess seven years older than Ghomeshi at the time, told this story of her interactions with Ghomeshi in late 2002 and early 2003. She said she met him while working for the caterer at a CBC Christmas party.
“He was flirtatious,” the woman remembered, saying Ghomeshi kept asking her to return with her tray of hors d’oeuvres. “His eyes were bright” when he looked at her, she recalled. Ghomeshi invited her to a taping of his fledgling CBC show >play at the old Movenpik restaurant downtown.
“You came!” she recalled him saying, his eyes lighting up. They chatted at the bar after. Former CBC host Evan Solomon was there. Ghomeshi seemed the perfect man.
“He’s funny, he’s intelligent, he opens doors, a perfect gentleman,” she said, in response to questions from prosecutor Callaghan.
She said he drove her to her car afterward, in a vehicle she described as a 1960s Disney movie car, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. In the car, she told court he asked her to undo a few buttons of her blouse (she said no) and kissed her.
Then, she said, it was like a switch flipped. “There was almost a rage that wasn’t there a second before.” She told court he grabbed her long hair and pulled it back hard, holding it back for two to three seconds. “It was painful and sudden.”
She said he then switched back to being a nice guy, and they chatted and he kissed her goodbye. She wondered if he simply did not know his own strength.
According to her story in court, she stayed in touch with Ghomeshi and went back to his home after another visit to a taping of his show. A girlfriend accompanied her that time. It was snowing, and though Ghomeshi invited both ladies to his home in Riverdale, she said, only she went.
Once there, Ghomeshi put on music. They sat on the couch and kissed, talked, flirted. At one point she said they were standing up kissing and, without warning, “he grabs my hair again” and “pulls my head down and at the same time he is punching me in the head multiple times.”
She is wondering: “Can I take this pain? My ears are ringing.”
She said she was afraid she was going to pass out. She said it felt like a closed fist, though he was behind her and she did not see the attack.
“You better go now,” she said Ghomeshi then told her. “I’ll call you a cab. He threw me out like trash.”
The woman was staying at her girlfriend’s that night. She sobbed in the cab all the way home, she testified. She said she never contacted police because “I didn’t think anyone would listen.”
Shortly after the Star published a story with allegations from four victims (immediately after the CBC abruptly fired Ghomeshi, and he wrote a Facebook post in his own defence) she spoke to the Star, then to CBC’s The National and As it Happens. She then made a complaint to police. Her witness interview, or at least a portion of it, will be played in court Tuesday.
Before noon, defence lawyer Henein was at the podium asking questions, going over minute details with apparent success. The witness was flustered by the end, and under the rules of cross-examination she is not allowed to speak to the Crown, or anybody, about the case until Henein is finished and the prosecution, if so inclined, questions her again.
The car issue. Though Henein provided no evidence Monday, she asked if it was possible Ghomeshi was driving a different car that was not a Beetle since, she indicated, he did not own a Beetle until later in the year (2003). The witness was uncertain.
Who was “smitten” with whom? When she told her story in the morning, the woman said Ghomeshi seemed to be quite taken with her. With no evidence presented, Henein suggested that it was actually the woman who was smitten with Ghomeshi. The complainant testified that was incorrect. There were hints in court that a friend, or former friend, of the complainant will be called to speak to that issue.
The kissing: Henein noted that in her morning evidence (called “evidence in chief”) the woman said she was kissing Ghomeshi in the car when he suddenly pulled her hair roughly. Henein noted that stories by the Star and CBC, based on interviews with her in the fall of 2014, did not reference kissing. Henein indicated that court will hear that the woman went on to tell police the kissing and hair pulling were “intertwined.”
In response, the woman said that she “had the memory,” she just “didn’t put it out” when she gave interviews to the media. She said she was flustered and “high on nerves” when she spoke to CBC. The Star, she said, “twisted” her words.
The hair extensions: The court heard that the woman has told different stories to police regarding whether or not she had hair extensions — the implication being that, if hair extensions were yanked roughly, they might come out. At one point between the laying of charges and the trial beginning, the woman emailed a police detective to say she was wearing hair extensions at the time of the incident.
“I now know I was not wearing hair extensions,” the complainant told court.
As proceedings wound down for the day and court staff fiddled with a video link-up for Tuesday, the scene playing the large monitor in the court was of the woman, seated in a comfortable chair, facing two Toronto police detectives, giving her statement about Ghomeshi on Nov. 1, 2014.
Henein will press play on that video when court resumes Tuesday.
– This story is updated from an earlier version