It’s a wonder the sprinklers didn’t go off from all that smoke roiling off the witness stand on Day One of the sexual assault trial against Jian Ghomeshi.
First testifier: Burnt toast.
That’s what happens when your credibility goes up in flames — the trustworthiness of testimony, of memory.
There was no badgering of the witness by a pugnacious defence lawyer, no traps opening up beneath her feet, no cruel dissection of he-said she-said narratives. Thus far it’s been only she-said and a clinical cross-examination — despite the torrent of appalled tweets from pitchfork heavers, most of whom were nowhere near the packed courtroom.
Marie Henein, representing Ghomeshi, didn’t circle her prey like a hungry shark. If there was thrashing, blood in the water, it originated with cuts the witness inflicted on herself.
Take it from someone who’s covered countless sex-assault trials and who’s fumed over the re-victimization of victims. What unfolded in court on Monday was a spectacle, all right, but not in that mean, crushing-of-witness way. It was a walk in the park.
And this complainant represents, purportedly, the strongest case the Crown has against the former media host darling, at least in this judge-alone proceeding.
Ghomeshi allegedly yanked her hair hard, whilst in the car, and slammed her head against the passenger window — which may, rather, have been hair extensions, because the woman has changed her evidence at least thrice on that detail; which wasn’t a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle, since Ghomeshi apparently didn’t own such a vehicle; and which never culminated in the alleged victim getting her noggin bounced off that window, as she told police. That, as she acknowledged in yesterday’s testimony, um, never happened.
“He did not smash my head in the window.”
But: “It was not a lie. If I said that, it was incorrect. That was me remembering and not recalling it accurately.”
Details matter. Consistency matters. That’s how trials are built. And it’s of no significance if the defendant is a creep. Is the account credible? The onus is on the prosecution to prove, not the defence to disprove. “I believe you, I believe you, I believe you” is a meme, not evidence.
About the hair extensions, the complainant (her identity protected by a publication ban) had made no reference in her videotaped statement from Nov. 1, 2014 — 12 years after the alleged assault — but did make a point of mentioning them to one of the investigating officers, in one of the 38 emails she sent them.
“It would have been odd if your hair was pulled back so hard and your extensions would not have ended up in Mr. Ghomeshi’s hand,” suggested Henein, calling it a “false memory.” No, a “recovered memory,” the witness insisted.
Witness: “I knew when I was telling my story here, this would come out. I was not wearing hair extensions. I said, if some of it was wrong, I would tell the truth now.”
She didn’t have extensions. She had extensions. She didn’t have extensions.
There was kissing in the car, too; the witness had no trouble recalling that part. Consensual kissing, because Ghomeshi was so darn cute and sweet and flirty when they’d met the first time — she was waitressing for the company hired to cater a CBC Christmas party and had mentioned to Ghomeshi, while passing the canapés, that they had a mutual friend. The second time, after the woman — then a 41-year-old mother going through a marital separation — came to watch Ghomeshi tape his show, >play, at his invitation, his eyes had “lit up’’ upon seeing her. “Oh, you came, you came!” a delighted Ghomeshi gushed, she testified.
Invited her to a pub across the street, then drove her to where her car was parked in a lot, in the yellow Beetle that wasn’t. “He’s driving a car that reminds me of 1960s Disney movies,” the witness told Crown attorney Michael Callaghan in direct questioning. “I’m feeling very safe at the moment, when I’m with him.’’
So, parked there, near her vehicle, chatting pleasantly, and Ghomeshi asks her to undo a couple of buttons on her blouse, which she refused. And then they’re kissing. “He reaches around my head and he grabs my hair really really hard. In my mind I’m thinking, ‘Ow, Ow, Ow.’ And what have I got myself into?”
Ghomeshi stopped. Nothing was said. “I wouldn’t say I was in shock but I wasn’t sure what had just happened. He had been so nice.”
Then Ghomeshi spoke. “He said something like, ‘Do I like it like that’ or ‘do I like this?” I didn’t like it like that and I didn’t like it like this. It’s not my style.”
Yesterday, the witness added a further descriptor to that smooching episode: “Sensuous.”
Despite the hair-yanking and the head-smashing (that wasn’t), the witness was keen on seeing Ghomeshi again. “Because he was nice and then he switched and then he switched back. And I questioned whether he really meant to hurt me.”
She went to a second taping of Ghomeshi’s show. Then a third, after which, in the company of a female friend (hers) they repaired to a restaurant for merely half an hour. Ghomeshi dropped the friend off at the subway and the witness accepted his invitation to go to his house.
“We’re kissing on the couch, kissing standing up. He’s behind me. He grabs my hair again really hard, harder than the first time he did it. He pulls my head down … I’m on my knees … and he starts punching me in the head.” Three times Ghomeshi allegedly punched her in the side of the head. “I’m terrified … can I take this pain? And I start to cry.
“I was dizzy, disoriented. I felt like I had walked into a pole or hit my head on the pavement. I felt like I was going to pass out.”
Ghomeshi said to her: “You should go now. I’ll call you a cab.”
Which he did. Which she did.
No more Ghomeshi dates, or quasi-dates.
Thirteen years would pass before the witness told her story to police, and then only after reports had broken in the media about Ghomeshi’s allegedly perverse and battering treatment of women, tales that had been passed around — as a kind of warning — at the CBC and in the wider entertainment galaxy.
But before speaking to police — after watching a press conference where then chief Bill Blair urged other victims to come forward — this witness went to the media. Went, first, to the Star’s Kevin Donovan.
If there were discrepancies between what the Star reported and what the witness testified to yesterday, it’s the journalist’s fault, she said. “What I told Kevin didn’t translate. He changed my story. He twisted it.”
It was the exact same story, however — the details unchanged, the unmentioned bits such as the kisses, not included — that she told The National a few days later. That she told As It Happens.
A couple of weeks later, the victim was on the phone to a publicist. “I spoke to her, basically to tell her, I don’t need you.”
Doing just fine on her own, she was.
Not so fine now.