CBC managers told of Jian Ghomeshi 'assault' allegations back in June

Certain CBC managers were aware back in June of allegations of "assault" — including punching and choking — involving a "series of women" against former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, an investigation by the fifth estate has found.

'Punching' and 'choking' accusations made known to certain managers, the fifth estate reveals

Former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi is escorted by police out of court past members of the media on Nov. 26. Ghomeshi faces sexual assault charges, but CBC has said none of them is linked to the workplace. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Certain CBC managers were aware back in June of allegations of "assault" — including punching and choking — involving a "series of women" by former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, an investigation by the fifth estate has found.

Until now, there were few specifics about what CBC managers knew about the rumours that were circulating about Ghomeshi. But new information provides another layer of detail about what was going on at the time.

Prompted by those allegations, CBC says it conducted an internal investigation this summer involving "a cross-section of managers, program leaders and Q employees." But it is also unclear to whom senior managers talked.

In a survey by CBC-TV's the fifth estate, almost all known staffers on Ghomeshi's radio show Q said they were not contacted by CBC management as part of any investigation.

The documentary also explores what happened when CBC managers were first shown images of Ghomeshi's alleged violence against a woman. 

Watch The Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi tonight on CBC-TV's the fifth estate at 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m. NT, or on the fifth estate website

Chris Boyce, the head of CBC Radio and a central figure in the story, said "in hindsight" it is a "good question" whether CBC should have gone to the police at that time.

But Boyce, speaking on the record for the first time, denied Ghomeshi's claim that he was "given the choice to walk away quietly," insisting the radio star was told the corporation was "beginning a termination process." CBC announced Ghomeshi was fired on Oct. 26.

The revelations come in a fifth estate documentary titled The Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi, which airs Friday at 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m. NT.

Ghomeshi, 47, surrendered to police on Wednesday morning. He was formally charged with four counts of sexual assault and one described by police as "overcome resistance — choking."

His lawyer said he is intending to plead not guilty to all charges, none of which have been tested in court.

Rumours had been swirling about Ghomeshi's private life, but it wasn't until the spring of this year that Ghomeshi himself first brought the potential controversy to his employer's attention.

On May 16, Ghomeshi called a meeting with Boyce, the executive director of CBC Radio.

Boyce says Ghomeshi told him that there was an ex-girlfriend threatening to make public "embarrassing" details of his sexual preferences. Ghomeshi has always insisted his activities were consensual.

Chris Boyce, the head of CBC Radio, said that he didn't want to get "into the specifics of who talked to who" and that it would be best to wait for the outcome of the independent review that CBC has hired lawyer Janice Rubin to undertake. (CBC)

"He said, you know, that he had done a lot of soul-searching, that he'd gone back in his head of every single relationship he'd been in … and he looked into my eyes, and he said 'I have never crossed any ethical or legal line,'" Boyce told the fifth estate's Gillian Findlay.

"I had no reason to believe that this person, that I had known for 10 years, would be telling anything other than the truth."

The fifth estate has learned that, in late June, two Q staffers were concerned enough about the allegations they had heard to take action. They were Sean Foley — one of Q's early directors — and Brian Coulton, who joined the show in 2009 and would also become a director.

Both had seen an email from independent journalist Jesse Brown, a provocative media critic who had teamed up with the Toronto Star.

'A series of women'

The email contained allegations of "non-consensual assault" from "a series of women." It also stated that there was "information indicating that inappropriate behaviour may have crossed over into the workplace."

For Coulton, receiving that email changed everything. "My heart basically stopped because it all then came together and became so much more real and serious than we had felt that it was before," he told Findlay.

That's because, back in March, Ghomeshi himself had told Coulton and Foley that an ex-girlfriend was planning to make his sexual preferences for "rough sex" public.

Ghomeshi later told Coulton that someone on Twitter with the handle Big Ears Teddy was making very specific allegations of violence by Ghomeshi.

Coulton searched Twitter and found the account. "And when I read it, the information in the Twitter feed was rather shocking to me," he told the fifth estate.

The tweets included allegations of "punching," "bruises" and that Ghomeshi "chokes out" women.

Coulton and Foley decided to take both the disturbing Twitter feed and the email from Jesse Brown to their boss, Chris Boyce, and CBC's head of human resources, Todd Spencer. Boyce and Spencer held an emergency meeting at CBC on the Canada Day weekend.

The meeting left the Q staffers feeling reassured that something would be done with the information they had presented.

"We totally had confidence that they were going to do something with it," Foley told the fifth estate. "They are in positions of power and they have ways. They have ways of checking these things out."

CBC's head of English services, Heather Conway, was interviewed by the National's Peter Mansbridge earlier in November about who knew what and when in regard to the Jian Ghomeshi affair. (CBC)

According to Boyce, there was nothing new to him in the information that Coulton and Foley had brought forward.

But he said he was very concerned about allegations of any wrongdoing in the workplace.

That was what he called an immediate "red flag," and it triggered an internal investigation into Ghomeshi's HR file and conversations with what Boyce called a "cross-section of Q employees," from senior management to staff who worked with Ghomeshi.

"All of them said they had never been subject to harassment from Mr. Ghomeshi," Boyce told the fifth estate. "They said they had never seen any inappropriate behaviour in the workplace by Mr. Ghomeshi and ... that they had never even heard of any other inappropriate behaviour in the workplace on the part of Mr. Ghomeshi."

The fifth estate did its own survey of the known employees working at Q last summer — 17 of them — including the executive producer. The survey did not include the three staffers who had sparked the investigation by bringing the allegations to management in June.

They were asked if anyone from management had approached them with questions about Ghomeshi. Not one of them reported being approached by anyone from management or HR.

The only person who didn't respond to the survey was the executive producer.

Who spoke to whom

"I can tell you that I have had conversations with a number of people, but I don't think that this is an appropriate venue to get into the specifics of who spoke to who," Boyce told the fifth estate.

He suggested it would be best to wait for the outcome of the independent review that CBC has hired lawyer Janice Rubin to undertake.

When asked by Findlay "why people at this point would say to us 'We were never talked to' if indeed they have been," Boyce responded: "We didn't speak to everybody on the team, but I know we spoke to a number of people on the team. I can't answer that question."

"You understand that this suggests that there really was no investigation, that armed with that information that you had on that weekend, about allegations of assault, about allegations coming from a series of women — choking, punching — that there really was no investigation?" asked Findlay.

"And the majority of allegations that we were aware of involved Mr. Ghomeshi's personal life," replied Boyce. "They didn't cross over into the workplace."

"But if it was information suggesting a crime might have taken place? Doesn't that supersede everything else?" Findlay asked.

"I'm not the police," Boyce said.

By mid-July, the two producers who had raised the alarm were assured the CBC's investigation had turned up nothing:

"They said we haven't found any evidence of workplace harassment and gave us the assurance that if there was any evidence that this was true Jian wouldn't be hosting a radio show," said Foley.

Sean Foley asked to be reassigned to another CBC radio show, and says he was told to be discreet about the reasons behind his reassignment.

Brian Coulton stayed on at Q, replacing Foley to become the show's new director. But he set strict conditions about working in proximity to Ghomeshi.

Graphic evidence

It was not until late October that things began to unravel for Ghomeshi. Worried about talk of a big news story coming out, Ghomeshi met with Boyce and Chuck Thompson, head of CBC public affairs, on Oct. 23 at his lawyers' downtown offices.

There, Boyce and Thompson saw graphic evidence of physical injury to a woman. Boyce thinks Ghomeshi was hoping to convince them it was consensual.

According to Boyce, he didn't go to police upon seeing that piece of evidence. But, he said, "in hindsight -- and this is a moment where I will be completely honest — if I could play that back in my head, there was a lot going on at that moment in time. I had just seen evidence that threw me for a loop. If I could do it again, would I go to the police?

"Maybe," he said. "I had no evidence of anything. I didn't have the evidence myself. It's a good question."

Still, Boyce says upon seeing the images CBC decided to begin the process of terminating Jian Ghomeshi. But Ghomeshi's firing was not formally announced until three days later, on Sunday, Oct. 26.

In a Facebook post later that day, Ghomeshi said he had been "given the choice to walk away quietly and to publicly suggest it was [his] decision."

CBC has never publicly responded to that claim, until now.

"I can say he was never given the opportunity to quietly walk away," Boyce told Findlay. "We were very clear with him that we were beginning a termination process."

To this day, Coulton and Foley — two of the Q staffers who played an important role in bringing the problems to the CBC's attention — still question whether the corporation did enough to handle the Ghomeshi affair correctly.

"I think it's quite important to say that's why we're speaking to you today, because I think it's important that people know what we knew and what we did with that information," Coulton says.

"I can't help but have some level of diminished faith in the corporation until I know what the extent of this investigation was, how they acted and when they acted."