Stories of women today on the Ghomeshi trial in Canada : we’ll learn what justice means on March 24

Feb 10th, 2016 | By | Category: In Brief

Lucy DeCoutere as Lucy, with her jerk husband Ricky, in the legendary Canadian TV series Trailer Park Boys.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 11, 12]. Apparently the monthly counterweights focus group raised the prospect of a piece on the Ghomeshi trial last Friday. I was assigned the task after I foolishly enthused about a CBC posting over the weekend, headlined “Ellen Page tweets support for Lucy DeCoutere after testimony at Ghomeshi trial.”

I should note that the trial continued after I wrote most of what follows below. See the CBC posting for Monday, February 8, 2016, on an unidentified third witness, after second witness Lucy DeCoutere and another unidentified first witness : “Jian Ghomeshi trial: Complainant agreed to date and sexual encounter after alleged assault.” (No wonder my wife says he’ll probably get off!)

Moreover, this was not the last witness at the trial. See the further CBC posting for Tuesday, February 9, 2016 : “Jian Ghomeshi trial: Judge allows Crown to include 4th witness’s evidence.” And, from the Toronto Star on Wednesday, February 10 : “Jian Ghomeshi trial to hear closing arguments Thursday.” (And then, very finally, on Thursday, February 11 :  “Jian Ghomeshi trial wraps up, judge’s ruling to come March 24.”)

Ellen Page – hot or not?

To be perfectly frank, I’m not too interested in all this. My main point to the editors was just about Ellen Page’s support for the earlier witness Lucy DeCoutere, who I first encountered on the Trailer Park Boys TV show – a piece of contemporary Canadiana I have long admired.

What I remember best about Ms Page is a photo of her the editors used to illustrate a piece of mine from way back, just after Labour Day 2011. Apparently the same photo was first used to illustrate a piece from the summer of 2010 by my aging mentor Randall White. And the editors say they found the photo on a 2009 posting called “Ellen Page – hot or not?”

If the world has finally unfolded as it should, here in the winter depths of February 2016, this photo of Ms Page also now appears on this assigned posting of mine today. And you might think I don’t really have much more to say on the Ghomeshi trial. But that would not be quite right.

Jian Ghomeshi leaves Toronto courthouse with lawyer Marie Henein, following day six of his trial on February 9, 2016. CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS.

Whatever finally happens, some would argue the most damaging evidence against the actress Lucy DeCoutere, as a sexual assault “complainant” against Ghomeshi, appeared in a February 5, 2016 National Post report by Christie Blatchford :

“It was on July 4, 2003 that DeCoutere claims Ghomeshi, while she was at his house, suddenly kissed her, put his hand on her throat and cut off her air, and slapped her hard three times across the face … But the next day, she emailed him, told him he was ‘literally changing my mind – in a good way I think’ and challenging her, then said, ‘You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to f– your brains out. Tonight.’”

In fact, the argument that the complainants against Ghomeshi in this latest crazy news from the northern woods showed signs of accepting or agreeing to what he did to them, after it happened, seems a or even the key weapon in the defense skillfully concocted by his piranha—attack lawyer Marie Henein.

Gillian Hnatiw, lawyer for Lucy DeCoutere, reads a statement outside court house on February 5, 2016. (Photo: Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press.)

At the same time, Lucy DeCoutere’s kinder and gentler lawyer Gillian Hnatiw has already urged, in a public statement outside the courtroom, that this kind of defence is ultimately beside the point, legally as well as morally. That is, I take it, equally what Ellen Page is saying in her social media support for her friend Ms DeCoutere  – and (more generally) in the “hot or not?” photo of her I admire so much as well.

And (possibly because I’ve been a little too brainwashed by Ms X over a great many years now) I think this kind of argument deserves further analysis and contemplation. It may even go to the root of some larger contradiction in our contemporary culture that is bothering us today.

Is violence against women never acceptable .. even if a person shows agreement and may even like it .. in some ways ?

“Lucy DeCoutere in a photo taken during an outing with Jian Ghomeshi after his alleged assault on her took place. Court Exhibit.”

Again I’m writing here without knowing what the trial by judge will finally decide in the case of Jian Ghomeshi – celebrated CBC radio host and hearthrob, author of a book for troubled teenagers etc, at the top of his game until some old girlfriends decided to kiss and tell.

I’m focusing strictly on the testimony of  Lucy DeCoutere – which has attracted what are widely viewed as especially damaging assaults by the defence lawyer Marie Henein (who, according to my wife, always wears stiletto heels!).

Of course you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to understand why Ms DeCoutere’s testimony has raised eyebrows, even if you only know what you read in the newspapers etc. It does seem true enough that she actually wrote to Mr Ghomeshi “You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to f– your brains out. Tonight” – after the sexually violent incidents about which she is complaining took place.

But … does that matter in the end – legally and/or morally? Lucy DeCoutere’s lawyer Gillian Hnatiw seems to be telling us it does not. Choking people so they have trouble breathing and slapping them hard in the face three times is both illegal and immoral, regardless of how the victim may subsequently think or behave.

Women in our time do seem to keep telling us they in particular are too often at the receiving end of this kind of violence and want it to stop, period.

I am tempted by this argument myself, even as an aging and more or less white male. It has behind it all the weight of the altogether welcome and genuine democratic revolution in women’s rights that has taken place in at least much of the global village since the end of the Second World War (having been more gradually gathering momentum since the 19th century, or before).

But it may also be that, in such matters as the trial-by-judge case of Jian Ghomeshi, this very rigorous principle of no-means-no-violence-against-women-period also seems to fly in the face of another free and democratic society principle from the 1960s and beyond.

Canadian federal justice minister Pierre Trudeau tells Ottawa journalists there’s “no room for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” December 21, 1967.

In Canada we still often summarize this principle via a memorable declaration of the present prime minister’s father, when he was still a mere Canadian federal minister of justice back in the later 1960s : “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

And it’s at this juncture, I think, that defense lawyer Marie Henein’s stress on how Mr.Ghomeshi’s complainants acted in ways he might reasonably have interpreted as approval of or consent to his behaviour, whatever it may have been, cuts deepest.

There is, to take an extreme case (that even very casual observers of early 21st century internet porn can see quite graphically illustrated), an entire genre of apparently legitimate sexual preference in the contemporary free and democratic society known as S&M. (Which, as understood in many quarters nowadays, even has its own European Enlightenment philosopher and French revolutionary in Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, 1740—1814.)

And then there is the recent vast popularity of the early 21st century soft S&M novel Fifty Shades of Grey.  Or the Story of O – “a tale of female submission involving a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer,” first published in 1954 and then made into various movies and even a Brazilian TV miniseries in 1961, 1975, 1979, 1984, 1992, 2002, and 2005.

In all these places people actually do consent to sexual violence and/or assault of a sort that would be illegal and immoral without consent. And then even ordinary sexual activity altogether outside the S&M tradition can often enough involve at least quite physically aggressive activity, by both partners. If consent is not the crucial variable in all this, just what does constitute illegal sexual behaviour among “consenting adults,” etc, etc, etc? Or to go back to federal justice minister Pierre Trudeau, four days before Christmas 1967 : “What’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the criminal code.”

What is justice in a case like this?

Jian Ghomeshi and friend in happier days, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Considerations of this sort about “consent” are no doubt a big part of what prompts my wife and many others to think Jian Ghomeshi will probably get off. Or in the end he may not be convicted of the “four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking” he has been charged with, in the language of the latest (February 10) Canadian Press report, as I write.

Or, as the February 10 CP report in the Toronto Star also notes : “The 48-year-old former host of CBC Radio’s ‘Q’ acknowledged in 2014 that he engaged in rough sex acts, but said it was consensual.”

It is still interesting in this context, to me at any rate, that defense lawyer Marie Henein’s case still wants to deny that the choking and slapping alleged by Lucy DeCoutere ever really happened. The whole point of the so-called fourth witness for the prosecution, finally allowed by the court, is “to rebut the defence claim that Lucy DeCoutere recently fabricated her allegations that Ghomeshi choked her and slapped her three times in 2003.”

Ms Henein’s piranha—attack argument here is that Ms DeCoutere in fact fabricated these allegations long after she claims they happened, in an effort to boost her career as an actress. (There is no such thing as bad publicity etc.)  As a case in point, Ms Henein has noted “that DeCoutere’s Twitter followers ‘skyrocketed’ after she shared her allegations with the media under her own name.”

Lucy DeCoutere and fourth witness Sarah Dunsworth – also “Lucy's best friend and roommate” on Trailer Park Boys.

The mysterious fourth witness has now proved to be the actress Sarah Dunsworth – among other things “Lucy’s best friend and roommate” on Trailer Park Boys. And on the now legendary TV show both Lucy DeCoutere and Sarah Dunsworth played characters named respectively Lucy and Sarah. (Cool, eh? Like having two teams called Roughriders in the old CFL?)

One thought has similarly struck me as I’ve waded through what I have of what the CTV News site almost elegantly calls the “Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial” : It appears that Lucy  DeCoutere in real life may actually be quite a lot like Lucy on Trailer Park Boys. (And the trouble with Jian Ghomeshi from this angle is that he proved to be just another dumb-ass jerk like Lucy’s no-good Trailer Park Boys husband Ricky.)

In any case Sarah Dunsworth in real life might be a lot like Sarah on Trailer Park Boys too. And Sarah in the TV series “dates Ricky in Season 2 after Lucy breaks up with him. But after Ricky is arrested again, she breaks up with him and becomes increasingly disrespectful and hostile towards him.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, in 2016 Sarah Dunsworth has “told a Halifax police officer” (who has passed on the evidence to the court in Toronto) that back in 2003, when it happened, Lucy DeCoutere “described an incident” to Ms Dunsworth in which “she had gone to his house” (ie Jian Ghomeshi’s) and “he had ended up putting his hands on her neck and choking her.”

Lucy always did think Ricky – seen here in background in ridiculous fight with Randy – was a jerk, even though sometimes she loved him. Mmmm ....

So, if the judge finds this testimony credible, Marie Henein’s argument that Ms DeCoutere fabricated her choking and slapping allegations long after she claims they happened, in an effort to boost her career as an actress, cannot be true.

Yet I still do not finally see myself why Ms Henein is so worried about this side of Lucy DeCoutere’s testimony. She has already shown that the question of consent in this instance – as with the other two unidentified complainants – is at the very least ambiguous. There just may be room for reasonable doubt here, in some particular learned justice’s opinion, regardless of just how, in Ms DeCoutere’s own words, Mr. Ghomeshi “kicked my ass last night.”

So, again, if Jian Ghomeshi is finally acquitted of any unambiguously criminal behaviour, has there finally been some great miscarriage of justice – as a result of conflicts between the revolution in women’s rights on the one hand, and the revolution in the role of the state in the bedrooms of the nation on the other, both of which many people of my generation and beyond have come to identify with, as matters of strong conviction … ????

One thing that finally sticks in my mind here is a photo of Mr Ghomeshi and his stiletto-heeled lady lawyers leaving court several days ago. To me he looks very unhappy – and even in the midst of visible emotional and mental suffering.

Even if the judge does find him not guilty of any criminal charges, he has paid a price for whatever offences he has committed with Ms DeCoutere and/or the other two unidentified witnesses. He has been humiliated publicly. He has lost his meaningful job with CBC radio.

Jian Ghomeshi leaves Toronto courthouse with his two lawyers, both of whom apparently wear stiletto heels! (David Donelly/CBC.)

(“Will he get his job back now,” Ms X asked at one point. My own guess would be no, even if he is finally found not guilty of criminal charges on grounds of reasonable doubt about consent by alleged victims. Again, as the February 10 CP report in the Toronto Star notes : “The 48-year-old former host of CBC Radio’s ‘Q’ acknowledged in 2014 that he engaged in rough sex acts, but said it was consensual.” Can a person who has openly admitted to even consensual “rough sex acts” still appear on radio stations supported by taxpayer dollars, as a matter of prudent public policy in a democracy? Would you want him back if you ran the CBC?)

So … it may be a very rough and informal kind of justice. But it is, I think at least, justice of a sort. Lucy DeCoutere has been somewhat humiliated in public too, some would say. But this kind of thing wouldn’t really bother Lucy on Trailer Park Boys, I think. And I’d guess it shouldn’t and doesn’t really bother Ms DeCoutere in real life either. (Especially when friends like Ellen Page and Sarah Dunsworth rush to her support.)

No matter what the judge finally decides, she and the other two complainants have already enjoyed some version of the revenge they deserve. Lucy DeCoutere’s acting career probably has received something of a publicity boost as well. And that’s a good thing too. As we unreconstructed fans of Trailer Park Boys have long believed, she is a great actress – and deserves all the applause and employment she can get.

L’ENVOI : Update February 11, 12, 2016Two articles appearing on February 11 more or less wrap the Ghomeshi case up for the next month and a half.  (1) “Jian Ghomeshi trial wraps up, judge’s ruling to come March 24” … By Laura Fraser, CBC News, who explains that “the trial is over … With Judge William Horkins saying that he’ll give a decision on March 24. (2) “Jian Ghomeshi’s trial highlights need for deep legal reform: lawyer.” Here “David Butt, who has represented many complainants in sexual assault cases,” gives what might be seen as an opposite view of  the case’s significance to the one I’ve tried to sketch above. So … best wishes until March 24, when I’ll quickly update my report one last time … Oh and btw, regarding  the informal penalties Mr.Ghomeshi faces, whatever Judge William Horkins decides, my wife has just pointed out that he is now saddled with quite vast legal fees for his stiletto lawyers : as high as half a million dollars or more, she has read! On a very final note for the time being, “Charlie Angus: Jian Ghomeshi’s Trial Is About Him, Not The Women” suggests yet another view of the case from someone who always has interesting things to say in my view – and again it’s somewhat different from what I’ve tried to sketch above!  Cheers, X.

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