Jian Ghomeshi trial's not guilty decision triggers outrage, march to police headquarters

In the hours after Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges of sexual assault and choking on Thursday, two of the complainants in the case against the former CBC Radio host took to the steps of Toronto police headquarters, where they were met by shouts of “Thank you, thank you” from hundreds rallying in support of them.

DeCoutere and woman identified as 'Witness 1' address hundreds rallying for survivors of sexual violence

Protests rally on Thursday night following Jian Ghomeshi's acquittal of all charges of sexual assault and choking 0:47

In the hours after Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges of sexual assault and choking on Thursday, two of the complainants in the case against the former CBC Radio host took to the steps of Toronto police headquarters, where they were met by shouts of "Thank you, thank you" from hundreds rallying in their support.

Lucy DeCoutere spoke at the demonstration organized by the group We Believe Survivors, along with a second complainant whose identity remains under a publication ban and was introduced to the crowed simply as "Witness 1."

"I'm glad it's over, but it's really not over," the woman said. "It's now time to keep these conversations going and to stop the way that these sexual assaults are tried."

"It's barbaric, it's antiquated, it needs to change and it needs to stop."

Ioanna Roumeliotis presents a case study of the Jian Ghomeshi trial featuring exclusive interviews with the three complainants about their experiences in court. Ghomeshi, a former CBC Radio host, was found not guilty 15:36

"I have to say thank you to you guys," DeCoutere said. "Through this whole thing, anything that I've said to anyone, for any of this, I've really had all of you in mind."

After the complainants spoke, members of various groups supporting the march took to the stage to voice their reasons for taking part in the demonstrations.

"We live in a rape culture where we're taught that sexual violence is accepted and expected," said a woman who identified herself as Laura. "Our culture is one where survivors of sexual violence are blamed or ignored for coming forward with their stories, which is never OK."

An impassioned response

A chorus outside Old City Hall peaked after a judge delivered his ruling acquitting Ghomeshi of the charges against him. Outraged shouts of "I believe survivors" reverberated off the courthouse steps and in more than 10,000 posts online.

'Through this whole thing ... I've really had all of you in mind," complainant Lucy DeCoutere said to a crowd of hundreds rallying in support Thursday evening outside Toronto police headquarters. (CBC)

In rendering a not guilty decision, Ontario court of justice Judge William Horkins said he simply could not trust the three complainants, given their shifting memories and evidence that at times strayed into outright lies.

And while he acknowledged that victims of abuse may rely on one another for support, he said the 5,000 messages exchanged between DeCoutere and another complainant sounded like they could be plotting to ruin the former broadcaster.

"While this anger and this animus may simply reflect the legitimate feelings of victims of abuse, it also raises the need for the court to proceed with caution," he said. "Ms. DeCoutere and S.D. considered themselves to be a 'team' and the goal was to bring down Mr. Ghomeshi."

Outside the courthouse, the judge's decision drew an impassioned response. As Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan stood in front of a stand of microphones giving reporters his reaction, a topless female protester jumped in front of him, yelling "Ghomeshi guilty!" knocking over the stand. 

Police tackled the woman to the ground and took her back inside the courthouse as she struggled and kicked the door. She was handcuffed by police and led into the back of a police cruiser.

A topless protester is taken down by police outside the court in Toronto after she interrupted the Crown prosecutor who was responding to the ruling judge's ruling. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Police confirmed to CBC News that the woman was arrested but released with no charges.

Other protesters outside the courtroom chanted, "We believe survivors."

Women's groups said the ruling, and in particular the judge's scathing comments about inconsistencies in the three complainants' stories during the trial, shines a spotlight on everything that's wrong with a system designed to find justice in such cases.

University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman said witnesses are held to unrealistic standards to prove their cases in the current court system.

'Why we don't come forward'

In his decision, Horkins said the court recognizes it needs to guard against stereotypes about how a woman should act after an assault. But he said he found "disharmony" between the women's behaviour, communication with Ghomeshi and the evidence they presented in court.

"I have a firm understanding that the reasonableness of reactive human behaviour in the dynamics of a relationship can be variable and unpredictable," the judge said. "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."

After the decision was announced, a flood of comments started appearing on Twitter with users embedding #IBelieveSurvivors in more than 13,000 tweets. 

Kristyn Wong-Tam, a Toronto city councillor, pointed out that the court does not require the accused to testify: "Ghomeshi never denied choking + punching the survivors. Yet the women were put on trial."

Ghomeshi, his family and supporters responded to the decision with hugging and handshakes. He left the courthouse without speaking to the throngs of reporters outside. 

His sister, Jila Ghomeshi, said the family was relieved at the ruling and asked for privacy.

"It has been extremely painful for those of us who love him," she said outside the courtroom. "Jian has, however, remained the person we know and love."

Mobile users can read the blog here

With files from Laura Fraser and The Canadian Press