Nova Scotia

Ghomeshi acquittal disappointing, says N.S. sexual assault support centre

The head of a Halifax support centre for sexual assault complainants says she's "outraged and disappointed" over both Jian Ghomeshi's acquittal and the way the judge delivered the verdict.

The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre says acquittal remarks were 'a perpetuation of victim blaming'

Jackie Stevens is the executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

The head of a Halifax support centre for sexual assault survivors says she's "outraged and disappointed" in both Jian Ghomeshi's acquittal and the way the judge delivered the verdict.

On Thursday, former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking.

Jackie Stevens, executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says Ontario Court Judge William Horkins' choice of words in his verdict implies sexual assault complainants lie.

'Victim blaming'

"Unfortunately, it was just a perpetuation of victim blaming instead," Stevens said in her Halifax office.

"Certainly that verdict and that decision could be made using points of law and without attacking the credibility and implying that all victims of sexual assault lie."

In his written decision, Horkins said the courts must "very cautiously guard against" using false stereotypes about how complainants should act.

"However, the twists and turns of the complainants' evidence in this trial, illustrate the need to be vigilant in avoiding the equally dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful," he said in the decision.

Stevens said more people need to believe sexual assault complainants, not fewer. The verdict instead may deter others from coming forward with future complaints, she said.

'Tough calls'

Karen McArthur, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, told CBC Radio's Mainstreet that the judge was just doing his job.

"Judges have to make tough calls with witnesses — not just complainants — and when they're confronted with unraveling stories, big gaping holes and completely contradictory statements when people are under oath," McArthur said.

She said she hopes people will still report instances of sexual assault.

"If you are wronged and you were assaulted, we need to have the system that is able to hear your story, hear your complaints and present it so that convictions are obtained," McArthur said.

"The complainants should know that their identities will be protected. They can use counsel in the courtroom to liaise both in the courtroom, with the police and with the Crown — and they should know that even if the assault occurred many years ago, it is not a bar to a conviction."

Only five per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police, according to Statistics Canada data from 2014.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet