Jian Ghomeshi trial: Complainant in different case recounts 'trauma of testifying'

A Toronto woman who spent a year dreading the cross-examination she would face in a sexual assault court case that began the same day as the trial of Jian Ghomeshi says that after going through the experience, she completely empathizes with the complainants in the former CBC host's trial.

'The line of questioning was just so out of date in terms of where I thought we were at,' says Mandi Gray

Mandi Gray began testifying in another sexual assault case on the same day Jian Ghomeshi's trial began. Although Gray had a lawyer to help her, she says the experience was emotionally exhausting.

For months, Mandi Gray could not surrender to sleep. Instead, the York University PhD student spent hours reliving the sexual assault that she says happened a year ago — and dreading the idea of retelling that experience in court.

She hired a lawyer to help her prepare for cross-examination, the rigour of which is cited in research on sexual assault as one of the major factors deterring women from reporting the crime to police.

"It's absolutely exhausting," Gray said of the three days she spent in the witness box. "Every word is calculated and counted by the defence and the Crown. The adrenaline is so high, and then it just crashes."

The trial involving Gray, who has waived her right to a publication ban on her name, began on the same day — Feb. 1 — and in the same Toronto courthouse as the sexual assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi, 48.

The former CBC radio host pleaded not guilty in court to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking, all related to assaults alleged to have taken place from 2002 to 2003. Closing arguments in the trial ended Thursday, and the judge has reserved his decision and said court would reconvene on March 24.

Although Gray, 27, is not involved in the Ghomeshi case, she said she feels a kinship with the three complainants, who had very intimate details of their lives broadcast in such a public way over the course of the past two weeks.

'Whacking' the witness

None of the complainants in the Ghomeshi trial spoke to reporters at the end of closing arguments on Thursday.

The lawyer for one of the women, Lucy DeCoutere, did, however, address the media earlier in the trial after the defence presented about two dozen emails DeCoutere sent to Ghomeshi after the alleged assault.

"This is and remains a trial about Mr. Ghomeshi's conduct," Gillian Hnatiw said on Feb. 5, reading from a statement outside the Old City Hall courthouse in Toronto. "What Lucy did and how she felt in the aftermath of the assault does not change that essential fact."

Could Ghomeshi trial deter reports of sexual assaults?

7 years ago
Duration 2:01
Blaming and shaming in high-profile case could stop some women from coming forward

Ghomeshi's defence team said in closing arguments that they did not take issue with the fact that DeCoutere reached out to Ghomeshi after the alleged assault but had a problem with the inconsistency in her testimony: that correspondence she sent suggested she continued to have feelings for Ghomeshi when she told the court she did not.

But Gray says she's convinced that defence lawyers in the Ghomeshi trial also relied on a tactic called whacking — attacking a witness's credibility based on stereotypes around sexual assault.

Those stereotypes, sometimes referred to as rape mythology, can include anything from the idea that a complainant should not continue a relationship with an abuser to using a complainant's past sexual history as an indication of consent, Gray said.

Complainants often presented as liars

Gray said she spent two days undergoing cross-examination — although she cannot go into the details because she remains under oath while her trial is adjourned until April.

The Toronto Star reported that the defence lawyer in Gray's case, Lisa Bristow, questioned every decision Gray made on the night she says she was assaulted, including why she didn't call 911 or immediately leave the apartment where the assault allegedly took place.

We go through the trauma of testifying only to be told that we're liars.- Mandi Gray, sexual assault complainant

The lawyer also suggested Gray made the allegations up after the accused told her he wanted to stop seeing her, the paper reported.

"The line of questioning was just so out of date in terms of where I thought we were at in the Canadian legal system," Gray said. "We report, we agree to be witnesses, we take off time from work — and then we go through the trauma of testifying only to be told that we're liars."

In the Ghomeshi case, defence lawyer Marie Henein did refer to certain inconsistencies as "lies" in the court but never called the complainants "liars."

Ghomeshi, a former CBC radio host, pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. The judge has reserved judgment, and the court will reconvene March 24. (David Donelly/CBC)

She did, however, tell DeCoutere the sexual assault she described in court "never happened."

"It takes a serious toll on your mental health to be told that your experience of violence is one that's been constructed," Gray said. "So, I completely empathize with the women in the Ghomeshi trial."

Own legal representation a must

Gray said she took time off work to mentally prepare for court — and hired a lawyer for advice. 

All the complainants in the Ghomeshi case also had legal representation, but that's not always the case. The Crown does not represent witnesses during criminal proceedings, and that's why Gray said her own lawyer will ask to have standing in the court when the trial resumes.

Gray would like to see courts ensure all sexual assault complainants have access to a lawyer and that the lawyer is given standing at the trial so that he or she can interject or object to certain lines of questioning.

"Women need to have lawyers," she says. "Why are these men getting prepped on how to be good witnesses, but we're told that we're less credible if we get legal coaching?"