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In fact, the complainant is only a witness, with no standing in the court.
But there’s another lesson to be learned here: That for justice to prevail in sexual assault cases, complainants need rigorous preparation for the adversarial tenor that accompanies all criminal prosecution.
Everyone was primed for the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial to train a spotlight on flaws within the Canadian criminal justice’s treatment of sexual assault.
What no one anticipated was that the eight-day spectacle would illuminate the role of the complainants—and perhaps even their power— in determining the “reasonable doubt” required to convict in all criminal cases.
It’s not surprising that a chorus has emerged, claiming the Ghomeshi trial will result in victims of sexual assault being even more unwilling to come forward than before. The filleting that each of the witnesses endured at the hands of Marie Henein may certainly discourage other women from entering the legal system.
The trial also laid bare the reality that the Crown is there as the people’s representative and, contrary to common assumption, not as the complainant’s lawyer.
Such vertigo-inducing revisions were debilitating to Crown prosecutors Michael Callaghan and Corie Langdon, serving to hamper their ability to prosecute the most difficult type of sexual assault case: historic allegations made by acquaintances.
The fallout played out day after day, as the gallery gasped with bombshell disclosures of crucial facts withheld. Two of the witnesses made last-minute adjustments to testimony, suggesting they were consuming media about the case.
Only hours before taking the stand, Lucy De Coutere told Toronto police and Crown prosecutors that she’d sent flowers to Ghomeshi shortly after he allegedly kissed her, squeezed her throat and cut off her air, and slapped her hard three times across the face in the summer of 2003.
Don’t consume media about the trial before you testify.
And, most important: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
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The overwhelming support on social media—along with then-Toronto police chief Bill Blair’s press conference encouraging victims of sexual assault “to come forward and report”—paved the way for a number of women, including the four facing off against Ghomeshi in court, to brave the system and report.