Category:how Crowns deal with victims

Who was protecting the rights of the victims in Ghomeshi’s sexual assault trial?

The judge at Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assault trial says he will deliver his verdict on March 24. Justice William Horkins announced the date after the Crown and the defence wrapped up their closing arguments February 11th in Toronto.

Ghomeshi’s defence lawyer says the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the former broadcaster committed the crimes of sexual assault and choking. In their closing arguments, lawyers Marie Henein and Danielle Robitaille said that in the course of the trial, Ghomeshi’s three accusers were proved to be unreliable witnesses who withheld information from police and even lied to the court.

The lawyers used especially tough language when summarizing the testimony of one of the complainants – “Trailer Park Boys” actress Lucy DeCoutere – who’s accused Ghomeshi of choking and repeatedly slapping her while they were kissing in his bedroom.

Henein says DeCoutere’s testimony related to one of the charges – overcome resistance by choking – doesn’t meet the elements of the offence, since she testified that she was not resisting when Ghomeshi was allegedly choking her.

Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan said earlier today that the credibility of Ghomeshi’s three accusers has nothing to do with the way they behaved after the alleged incidents, since the law is clear that everyone responds differently to sexual assault.

Henein agreed that the women’s behaviour and their continued involvement with Ghomeshi after the alleged sexual assaults were not relevant to the case. However, she said that the fact they lied to the court was.

“There is not an expert who will testify that perjury is indicative of trauma,” Henein said. “What a witness cannot do is lie about their conduct and then say “Oh geez, that’s just how victims of trauma behave.’”

Callaghan said in his closing arguments that each of the complainants reacted to the alleged sexual assaults in their own unique ways based on their individual personalities and life experiences.

He said the first complainant didn’t go to police immediately after the alleged assaults because she didn’t think her allegations were serious enough. Callaghan adds another complainant, DeCoutere, didn’t go to police immediately because she was unsure of the reporting process. The third woman only came forward in 2014, Callaghan says, because media reports of other allegations against Ghomeshi caused her to see a pattern. Callaghan asked the Justice William Horkins to consider all three women’s allegations, their credibility and reliability separately.

The 48-year-old former CBC Radio host, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, didn’t testify during trial and has maintained his silence ever since being arrested in November 2014. Ghomeshi acknowledged in October 2014 that he engaged in rough sex acts, but said it was consensual.

The Ghomeshi case clearly highlights the difficulty of prosecuting sexual assault cases in Canada and the myths about how women behave following assaults that permeate society. While official statistics tell us there are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year, we also know that a minuscule amount, only 3 out of every 1,000 cases, will result in a conviction (source: YWCA Canada). Most perpetrators of sexual violence are not charged, prosecuted or convicted.  The criminal justice system is failing.

Lucy DeCoutere’s lawyer, Gillian Hnatiw, stated, “This is and remains a trial about Mr. Ghomeshi’s conduct. What Lucy did or how she felt in the aftermath does not change that essential fact. It’s telling that the defence did not accuse her of dishonesty regarding the objective facts of the assault itself. She maintains her allegations and remains resolute in her decision to come forward. And, please be reminded, when the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi first began to surface, he himself admitted that he does enjoy and engage in violence for sexual pleasure. Violence against women is not about the behaviour of the women; it is not about how they cope with an assault, or the details they commit to memory in the aftermath any more than it is about what they wore or how much they had to drink. Lucy wants survivors of violence to know that what they do in the aftermath in no way changes the truth. There is no right or wrong way to cope or react or move or move forward with your life.”

Federal Member of Parliament Charlie Angus issued a statement highlighting his frustration over the process that has vilified the women who came forward in this case. “I have known Jian Ghomeshi casually for 25 plus years. What did I learn from the trial? 1) That a woman who remembers being beaten is not considered credible because she didn’t know the make of his car. 2) That famous people can afford lawyers known as “Hannibal Lecter” for their ability to take sexual assault witnesses apart. 3) That Jian won’t bother to refute any of the charges because as some law expert says: “There are many reasons why an accused elects not to call evidence. One of them is that the complainants have been destroyed in cross-examination.” 4) That Jian flourished as a predator in what should have been the safest organization in the country and that the legal system continues to fail women and 5) that nobody close to Jian even pretends he is innocent, and somehow this isn’t an issue — the women are.”

Perhaps Justice Horkins will focus on the evidence presented about Ghomeshi’s deliberate acts of violence instead of allowing the focus or scrutiny to be wrongly placed on the victims. As Guila Benchimol stated in her Huffington Post column, “Making the perpetrator disappear is the point of focusing on victims in sexual assault cases. We focus on their responsibility, which makes that of the perpetrator harder to see, and we focus on their credibility, expressing doubts about their account….Ghomeshi seems to have vanished at trial.”

Our adversarial justice system is simply unable to deal adequately with sexual assault and reform is needed.  The victims, whose sexual integrity has been violated, should not be placed on trial. The CRCVC believes sexual assault victims should have independent counsel with legal standing in court to advise the complainant directly and represent their interests directly before the court. Without legal representation, we will continue to see the vilification of the victim in the aftermath of sexual violence and extremely low reporting rates which allows perpetrators to evade justice.

Manitoba woman in hiding feels ‘betrayed’ by plea bargain for gun-stashing ex

Assault charge stayed to secure weapons charges against Trevor Zayac

By Holly Moore, CBC News, January 21, 2015

A Manitoba woman living in witness protection says she feels betrayed by Crown prosecutors after a charge for what she calls a vicious assault by her ex-boyfriend was stayed.

The move came as a result of a plea bargain that she didn’t know about until the day of the man’s  sentencing hearing, when Crown counsel phoned her.

“If the assault wasn’t brought in, they would have nothing,” she said. “I have to build my life from scratch, take therapy, have nightmares.

“Someone was able to plea bargain my assault off the table,” she said. “Isn’t there a moral and ethical line there?”

The woman said she was assaulted after the couple had an argument during a family party in Beausejour, Man.

Zayac punched her, kicked her and knocked her out with a vodka bottle in a trailer they had brought to sleep in, according to court documents.

That charge was stayed by the Crown.

“I thought I was going to die. I really did,” she said. “I thought he was going to kill me.”

The woman, whose identity and location CBC News is protecting, said she helped convict her ex-boyfriend, Trevor Zayac, on weapons charges after telling officers investigating her assault complaint about a large cache of guns he kept in his home in Winnipeg. (CBC)

“Nobody came to help me,” she added.

She went to a neighbour’s house and that man called Beausejour RCMP. An officer took her to hospital where she stayed for six hours.

She told police about the weapons Zayac had stashed because she wanted them to “be prepared.”

“I didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” she said, adding that she told police Zayac had fantasized about a shootout with authorities.

Zayac is being sentenced on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to unsafe storage, possession of a prohibited weapon and failing to report a lost or stolen firearm. He originally faced more than 30 charges in connection with a massive collection of weapons stashed in his home, including semi-automatics, rifles and body armour.

He legally owned all but one of the guns, but many were improperly stored, with one fully-loaded pistol kept under his kitchen sink. He built many contraptions in hollowed-out furniture and collapsible picture frames that kept the weapons hidden.

He was previously convicted in 1998 for possessing a small collection of weapons, including pipe bombs. He was given probation for those charges.

Feels ‘revictimized’ by plea deal

The woman says she feels “revictimized” by the plea deal and can’t understand how serious charges can be wiped away.

“That’s the frustration that victims really feel in this country,” said Heidi Illingworth, executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.

“In this case, you’re speaking about the woman who was assaulted, someone has uttered threats against her,” she said. “So to have the system add another injury upon her can almost be worse than the first injury that she suffered.”

Illingworth’s group wants to see more Crown prosecutors be required to explain their decision-making processes to victims, especially when it comes to plea bargaining.

“Many have been seriously harmed and traumatized by the actions of another person, and they need to understand why the Crown has made a decision that they have,” she said.

Michael Desautels, the prosecutor in the case, sent the woman a letter on Jan. 7, following the initial phone call.

“The standard for prosecuting any accused is whether or not there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction,” he wrote.

He also wrote, “We take responsibility for the lack of timeliness of our communication of the actual disposition to you,” adding that he decided to tell her in the new year.

In his letter, Desautels said the assault and uttering threats charges “were not strong” and the strongest case was the weapons-related case.

“We’re not going to get into an exhaustive listing of the reasons for the plea bargain beyond what we’ve set out to you in our phone call and our previous letter,” he stated in a follow-up email he sent the woman a few days later.

The Crown is seeking 2½ years for Zayac while defence attorney Martin Glazer has requested time served and a conditional sentence in the community.

The woman, who is now in hiding, says the justice system failed her and she fears that Zayac may hurt her when he gets out.

“It’s like I was used as a pawn,” she said. “I think he is definitely going to be seeking revenge.”

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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