The acquittal verdict in the sexual assault trial of former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi has evoked strong reaction, as protesters chanted and interrupted media interviews outside the courtroom, but also among sexual assault services advocates in Alberta.
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Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking by a judge who said witnesses' credibility raised reasonable doubt in Ghomeshi's guilt, in a Toronto courtroom Thursday.
The judge said evidence from all three complainants was "tainted by outright deception."
Debra Tomlinson of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services says, that does not mean Ghomeshi is innocent.
"And one thing that Canadians were made clearly aware of today, is that a verdict of not guilty in a sexual assault trial does not necessarily mean that a crime was not committed," Tomlinson said.
"We really want to express our deep admiration and respect for the survivors who so courageously came forward in this case and we want them to know, that we believe them."
Conversation has changed
Tomlinson said, despite her organization being unhappy with the verdict, the trial has changed the conversation on sexual assault.
"The complainants in the Jian Ghomeshi trial have had to bear the pressures of public scrutiny, commentary on their credibility. They have had to deal with after effects of sexual assault and the trial process itself," the advocate said.
"Most importantly, their willingness to come forward has started a public conversation in our country about the crime of sexual assault like we have never seen before."
Tomlinson points to the #beenrapedneverreported hashtag campaign that exploded after the initial complainants came forward, with thousands sharing their stories online.
Peter Sankoff, a University of Alberta law professor, says while he understands this case has ignited passions, in his view the verdict came as little surprise to legal analysts watching the case.
"The testimony just didn't come out very positively for the Crown and there were problems for each witness so when you know about how the 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' actually works in operation, I can't say I was surprised by the verdict," Sankoff told CBC's Alberta@Noon.
Sankoff said, however, he was a little taken aback by some of the judge's statements about witness credibility.
"It was very unusual to see that in a judgement in such stark terms … I guess that was the part that was most surprising to me, just how detailed the dissection of credibility was."
Verdict almost appeal-proof
He said in his opinion, an appeal in unlikely.
"The judge was pretty careful about the way he worded it and kept coming back to the concerns about some of the things that were said by the witnesses that conflicted with things they had said in court," Sankoff said.
"And I think that really comes close to appeal-proofing the judgement."
Victim blaming continues to exist
The executive director at Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse says, complicating matters is the cultural and historic context of cases like this one.
"The problem is that sexual assault cases have continued to struggle in the court system because of the massive myths that exist, the victim blaming that continues to exist and so often times it is the lens of … women are not telling the truth," Danielle Aubry said.
"That is one of the ugly myths that came forward today."
Despite this, Aubry says, there is room for optimism.
"People are getting tired of being blamed. We really need to hit that tipping point of people just saying 'enough.' I think we are starting to have that tipping point," she said.
"It has never felt this way before and that is a positive thing."
Time to rally
Debra Tomlinson agrees and says the time for change is now.
"We need Canadians to rally together to put pressure on our criminal justice experts and our social policy makers to create a specialized response to the crime of sexual assault," Tomlinson said.
Meanwhile, Peter Sankoff says he agrees in the need to talk about sexual assault.
"If anything positive comes out of it, I do hope it sparks a conversation about where we are going," he said.
"Because I think that is a really important question about what we are going to do about the crime of sexual assault in the future."