Friday, March 25, 2016

Ghomeshi Ruling: Justice Horkins Upholds the Fundamental Principle that Evidence Must by Subjected to an Assessment of Credibility and Reliability


CITATION:       R. v. Ghomeshi, 2016 ONCJ 155
Text Box: 2016 ONCJ 155 (CanLII)DATE: 2016·03·24 COURT FILE  No.:  Toronto  4817 998 15-75006437

B E T W  E E N  :


—  AND   —


Before  Justice  William B. Horkins
Heard on February 1 through February 11, 2016 Reasons   for Judgment  released   on March  24, 2016

Michael Callaghan and Corie Langdon .................................. counsel for the Crown Marie  Henein, Danielle Robataille  and Samuel Walker ..... counsel for the  accused

HORKINS,  W. B., J.:


[1]  Jian  Ghomeshi  is  charged  with five  criminal  offences  relating  to  four  separate events, involving  three  different  complainants. Two  of  the  complainants are shielded  from identification  and  so  I  refer  to  the  complainant  in counts  1 and  2 by  the  initials  L.R.  and  the  complainant  in count  5 by the  initials S.D.

[2]      The   charges  with  respect  to  L.R.  are  two  counts  of  sexual  assault.  The  first assault is  alleged  to  have  occurred  between  December  1st  and  31st2002 and  the  second  assault   on January  2nd, 2003.
[3] The charges with respect to  Lucy  DeCoutere  are  sexual  assault  and  overcoming  resistance  to  sexual  assault  by  choking.  These  events  were    originally

NOTE: This judgment is under  a publication  ban  described in  the  WARNING  page(s)  at  the start of this document. If the WARNING page(s)  is  (are)  missing,  please  contact  the court office.

alleged to have occurred between  the  27th  of  June  and  the  2nd  of  July  2003  but  this has  since  been  amended  to  conform  to  the  evidence  that the  events  occurred between   the  4th  and 6th  of July  2003.
Text Box: 2016 ONCJ 155 (CanLII)[4]  The   charge  with   respect  to   S.D.   is  sexual  assault.   This  was  originally alleged to have occurred between  the  15th  and  20th  of  July  2003.  This  has  now  been amended to conform  to  the  evidence  that  the  event  occurred  between  the  15th   of July  and the  2nd  of August  2003.
The  Elements   of the Offences

[5] A criminal "assault"  is  an  intentional  application  of  force  to  the  person  of another without  that  person’s  consent.  "sexual  assault"  is  an  assault  committed  in sexual circumstances  such  that the  sexual  integrity  of  the  victim  is  violated. The test to determine if an assault is "sexual" is an objective one.  This  test  asks  whether the sexual nature of the  contact  would  be  apparent  to  reasonable  person when viewed in light of all of the circumstances. The actual intent  of  the  accused is only one factor amongst many  that  may  determine  if  the  conduct  involved   is "sexual".

[6] "Sexual assault" as  defined  in  our  Criminal  Code  covers  very  broad  spectrum of offensive activity; everything from an uninvited sexual  touching  to  a brutal rape  falls  under  the  one  title  of  "sexual  assault".  The  events  as  described  by each of the complainants, taken at face  value,  fall  within  this  broad  definition.  Each allegation  of  violence  occurred in an intimate    situation.

[7]  With  respect   to   the   complainant   Lucy   DeCoutere,   there  is  an  added charge of choking with intent to overcome resistance.  This  offence  is  committed when a perpetrator attempts to choke the victim with the intent of facilitating the commission  of  an offence;  in this  instance,  a sexual  assault.

Text Box: 2016 ONCJ 155 (CanLII)[11] Each charge presented against  Mr.  Ghomeshi  is  based  entirely  on  the  evidence of  the  complainant. Given  the  nature  of  the  allegations this  is  not unusual or surprising;  however  it  is  significant  because,  as  result,  the  judgment of this Court depends entirely on an assessment  of  the  credibility  and  the  reliability  of  each complainant  as a  witness.

[92] In  her  email  correspondence  with one   of  the   other   complainants, exchanged after  the  charges  were  laid,  Ms.  DeCoutere   expressed   strong animosity towards Mr. Ghomeshi.  She  said  she  wanted  to  see  that  Mr.  Ghomeshi was "fucking  decimated" and stated, "the  guy's shit show, time to flush"; and then very bluntly just, 
"Fuck Ghomeshi."

Text Box: 2016 ONCJ 155 (CanLII)[93] All  of  the  extreme  animosity  expressed since  going  public  with her  complaint in 2014 stands in stark contrast to the flirtatious correspondence and interactions of 2003 and  2004,  words  and  actions  that are  preserved  in  the  emails  and  photographs   she  says she  forgot about.

[94] Let me emphasize strongly, it is the  suppression  of  evidence  and  the  deceptions  maintained  under  oath that drive  my  concerns  with  the  reliability  of this witness, not necessarily her  undetermined  motivations for  doing  so.  It  is difficult to  have  trust  in  a  witness  who  engages  in  the  selective withholding relevant   information.

Possible   Collusion

[107]  S.D.  said  that her  decision  to  come  forward  was  inspired  by  others coming forward  in  2014.  She  consumed  the  media  reports  and  spoke  to  others  for about six weeks  after  the  “Ghomeshi  Scandal”  broke  in  the  media.  Although  she initially testified  that  she  and  Ms.  DeCoutere  never  discussed  the  details  of her  experience  prior  to  her  police   interview,   in  cross-examination  she  admitted that  in fact she  had.

[108] I am  alert  to  the  danger  that some of  this  outside  influence  and  information may have  been  imported  into her   own  admittedly   imprecise recollection  of her  experience  with  Mr.  Ghomeshi.

[109]  The  extreme  dedication  to  bringing  down  Mr.  Ghomeshi  is  evidenced  vividly in the email correspondence between S.D. and Ms. DeCoutere. Between October 29, 2014 and September 2015, S.D. and Ms. DeCoutere exchanged approximately 5,000 messages. 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.  Ms.  DeCoutere  and  S.D.  considered  themselves  to be a “team”  and  the goal  was  to bring down  Mr.    Ghomeshi.

[110] The team bond between  Ms.  DeCoutere  and  S.D.  was  strong.  They discussed witnesses, court dates and  meetings with the  prosecution.  They  described their partnership as being “insta sisters”. They shared a publicist.  They initially shared the same lawyer. They spoke of together building a “Jenga  Tower”  against Mr. Ghomeshi. They  expressed  their  top  priority  in  the  crude  vernacular  that they sometimes employed, to “sink the prick,… ‘cause he’s  a fucking piece of  shit.”

Similar Act Evidence

[127]  Similar  act  evidence  is  presumptively  inadmissible.  Evidence  of  an accused's alleged propensity  to  commit  the  particular  type  of  crime  with  which  he is charged with is inadmissible. The Crown expressly agreed that each complaint contained in the Information before the  Court  must  be  determined  on  its  own merits.

[131] There is no legal  bar  to  convicting  on  the  uncorroborated  evidence  of  single witness. However, one of  the  challenges  for  the  prosecution  in  this  case  is that the allegations  against  Mr.  Ghomeshi  are  supported  by  nothing  in  addition  to the complainant’s word. There is no other evidence to  look  to  determine  the  truth. There is no tangible  evidence.  There is  no  DNA.  There  is  no  "smoking  gun". There is only the sworn evidence of each complainant, standing on its own, to be measured against  very exacting  standard  of proof.  This   highlights   the importance of the assessment of the credibility and the reliability  and  the  overall  quality,  of that  evidence.

[133]  Ultimately  my  assessment  of  each  of  the  counts   against  the   accused turns  entirely  on  the  assessment  of the  reliability and  credibility  of the complainant,  when  measured against  the  Crown’s  burden  of  proof.  With  respect to each charge, the  only necessary  determination  is  simply this:  Does  the  evidence  have  sufficient  quality  and  force  to  establish  the  accused’s  guilt  beyond a reasonable  doubt?

[135] As I have stated more than once, the  courts  must  be  very  cautious  in  assessing the evidence  of  complainants in  sexual  assault and  abuse  cases.  Courts must guard against applying false stereotypes concerning the  expected  conduct of complainants. I have a firm understanding that the reasonableness of  reactive human behaviour in the dynamics of a relationship can be variable and unpredictable.  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.  Each  individual  and each unique factual scenario must be assessed according to  their  own  particular  circumstances.

Text Box: 2016 ONCJ 155 (CanLII)[136] Each complainant  in  this  case  engaged  in  conduct  regarding  Mr.  Ghomeshi, after the fact,  which  seems  out  of  harmony  with the  assaultive  behaviour ascribed to him. In many instances, their  conduct  and  comments  were  even inconsistent with the level of animus  exhibited  by  each  of  them,  both  at  the  time and then years later. In a  case  that  is  entirely  dependent  on the reliability  of their evidence standing alone, these are  factors  that cause  me  considerable difficulty  when  asked  to accept  their  evidence  at full value.

[137] Each complainant was confronted with volume of  evidence  that  was contrary to their prior sworn statements and  their  evidence  in-chief.  Each complainant demonstrated,  to  some  degree,  willingness  to  ignore  their  oath  to  tell the truth on more than one  occasion.  It is this  aspect  of  their  evidence that is  most  troubling   to the Court.

[138]  The  success  of  this  prosecution  depended  entirely  on  the  Court  being  able to accept each complainant as a sincere,  honest  and  accurate  witness.  Each complainant was revealed at trial  to  be  lacking  in  these  important  attributes. The evidence of each complainant suffered not just from inconsistencies and questionable   behaviour,  but  was  tainted  by  outright deception.

[139] The  harsh  reality  is  that  once  a  witness  has  been  shown  to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence,  that  witness  can  no  longer expect  the  Court to consider them to be a trusted source  of  the  truth.  am  forced  to  conclude that it is impossible  for  the  Court  to  have  sufficient faith  in  the reliability  or sincerity  of  these  complainants. Put  simply,  the  volume  of  serious  deficiencies  in the  evidence  leaves  the  Court  with  a reasonable  doubt.

[141] I have no  hesitation  in  concluding  that  the  quality  of  the  evidence  in  this case is incapable  of  displacing  the  presumption  of  innocence.  The  evidence  fails  to  prove  the  allegations beyond  a reasonable doubt.


The court  hearing  this  matter  directs  that  the  following  notice  be  attached  to the  file:
Text Box: 2016 ONCJ 155 (CanLII)A non-publication and non-broadcast order in this proceeding  has  been  issued under subsection 486.4(1) of the Criminal Code. This subsection  and subsection 486.6(1) of the  Criminal  Code,  which is  concerned  with the consequence of failure to comply with an  order  made  under  subsection  486.4(1),  read  as follows:
486.4 Order restricting publication — sexual offences.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), the presiding judge or justice may make an order directing that any information that could identify the complainant or a witness shall not be published in any document or broadcast or transmitted in any way, in proceedings in respect of
(a)     any of the following offences:
(i)    an offence  under  section 151,  152,  153,  153.1,  155,  159, 160,
162,  163.1, 170,  171,  172,  172.1, 173,  210, 211, 212, 213, 271,
272, 273, 279.01,  279.02, 279.03, 346 or 347,
(ii)     an offence under section 144 (rape), 145 (attempt to  commit rape), 149 (indecent  assault on female),  156 (indecent assault on male) or 245 (common assault) or subsection 246(1) (assault with intent) of the Criminal Code, chapter C-34 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970,  as it read immediately before January 4, 1983, or
(iii)     an offence under subsection 146(1) (sexual intercourse with a female under 14) or (2) (sexual intercourse  with  a  female between 14 and 16) or section 151 (seduction of a  female between 16 and 18), 153 (sexual intercourse with step- daughter),  155  (buggery  or  bestiality),  157  (gross  indecency),
166 (parent or guardian procuring defilement) or 167 (householder permitting defilement) of the Criminal Codechapter C-34 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970, as it read immediately before January  1, 1988; or
(b)     two or more offences being dealt with in the same proceeding, at least one of which is an offence referred to in any of subparagraphs (a)(i) to (iii).
(2)    Mandatory order on application.In proceedings in respect of  the  of- fences referred  to in paragraph  (1)(a) or (b), the presiding judge or justice shall
(a)     at the first reasonable opportunity, inform any witness under the age of eighteen years and the complainant of the right to make an application for the order; and
(b)     on application made by the complainant, the prosecutor or any such witness, make the order.
.    .   .

486.6 Offence.—(1) Every person who fails to comply  with an order  made under subsection 486.4(1), (2) or (3) or 486.5(1) or (2) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

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