By now, anyone who watched the trial of disgraced radio host Jian Ghomeshi with anything more than passing interest will have likely come to the conclusion that the Crown prosecutor had what appeared to be a solid case and blew it.
Much as the victims and sympathizers of sexual predators wanted to see Ghomeshi strung up for the sins of his forebears, it became pretty clear that the justice system was going to (rightly) do what it does: acquit for lack of evidence.
While we may feel some satisfaction that vigilante justice does not yet prevail in our country, I feel none of the unbridled glee of Conrad Black, an ex-con and defender-of-the-disliked, who wrote about the case in the National Post. Dismissing the “fuzzily recollected” accounts of the complainants, he thundered, “We cannot degenerate into a society of denunciation where, as in totalitarian states, a mere unsupported allegation, in this case mainly many years after the alleged facts, can be allowed to ruin a person’s career.”
Black’s melodramatic indignity would be comical, were it not coming at the expense of women who now feel – as with many victims of sexual assault – like they end up being the ones who are punished for bringing forward their complaints.
And so, Ghomeshi walks on those charges but faces one more, for an incident alleged to have occurred at the CBC’s Toronto headquarters. Pundits predict this could be a much tougher challenge for the defence.
Regardless of the outcome of the coming trial, there is something terribly unsatisfying about seeing “justice served” on the earlier charges. I call it the “creepy guy syndrome”. It goes a bit like this:
If you happen to be the type of guy who enjoys making conquests out of women, and you want to make sure it doesn’t come back to bite you one day, then you would be Machiavellian enough to create a paper trail. Did your conquest struggle with conflicted emotions after the incident? You bet! All you have to do is keep the email chain. That alone provides doubt about the consent given.
So, even if a charge is laid, the accused is likely to be found “not guilty” under the law.
But neither is he innocent. Rather, in the eyes of society, he is a creepy guy.
There’s a part of me that would like to see a law against creepy guys, even though I know it’s asking too much of our legal system. I don’t even like sharing gender with guys like that. They tend to be bullies; some of them sleep with teddy bears and have mommy issues. They’re not people you want to be socializing with. Those who are married tend to cheat on their wives and then buy expensive jewelry to make up for it. For the same reason I don’t hang out with people who abuse their pets, I would never consciously choose to befriend a creepy guy.
Of course, society does have its own punishment for people who behave in a way the rest of us don’t approve of. In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, it seems highly unlikely that he will host a national radio program any time in the near future – certainly not in Canada. To be honest, it’s pretty hard to feel much sympathy for him over that.
The reason is simple. Even though I accept the verdict in this case as appropriate, that only means the evidence was too weak to overcome the presumption of innocence. I am glad our legal system is designed to minimize the risk of sending innocent people to jail. I also, however, feel that a finding of “not guilty” is not a mandate for society to wipe clean everything you have heard about an individual.
We heard a lot about Jian Ghomeshi, some of it by his own admission. He tells us he belongs to an alternative culture that enjoys rough sex. One wonders whether all of his partners really understood what he meant by that in advance of their encounters.
But this story isn’t about alternative cultures. It’s about deception and abusing the trust of vulnerable people. By that measure, Ghomeshi is found wanting and society will pass its own judgment. Let it be a life sentence.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.