After Ghomeshi verdict, debate over justice reform
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, March 24, 2016 7:35PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 24, 2016 7:37PM EDT
After former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on all charges in a widely watched sexual assault trial, women’s advocates and politicians are proposing reform of the legal system.
However, at least one prominent legal expert says she doesn’t see the law as the problem.
University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen told CTV’s Power Play that although many people disagree with the verdict, “within the confines of the criminal law, which has very strict rules, a very high standard of proof… this verdict is defensible.”
Mathen said that because corroboration isn’t needed to prove criminal sexual assault, the judge must instead depend on complainants’ testimonies, which he found to be not credible in this case.
“If there’s information that comes forward that shows inconsistencies in their statements on the stand, that can be fatal,” she said.
Asked whether the justice system needs reform, Mathen said that Canadian law is already “very progressive.”
“I don’t think the problem is with the law,” she added. “You can’t undo the presumption of innocence. You can’t force the accused to testify. Those are just non-starters in our system.”
“I do think there has to be greater support to sexual assault complainants, and a recognition that the criminal law is the last resort,” she said. “By the time you get to the criminal law there has already been a failure.”
Mathen said she thinks “the worrying point is: why does sexual assault have a markedly low rate of reporting, prosecution and conviction (than other crimes)? What is it that presents those barriers?”
Tracey Ramsey, an NDP MP for Essex in Ontario, told Power Play that she believes the overwhelming use of the hashtag #IBelieveSurvivors in response to the verdict is evidence that “the system is broken” and that sexual assault victims may need a “special court.”
“The justice system does not stand up for survivors of sexual assault and the system needs to be overhauled,” said Ramsey.
“We need to have a system where (victims) are heard and they aren’t judged on the way they responded to their particular assault.”
Some women’s groups, including METRAC (Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children), have advocated for a special court where judges and prosecutors have special training on sexual assault cases.
Karina Gold, a Liberal MP from Ontario, said the federal government is committed to improve the criminal justice system, “particularly for victims of domestic violence.”
“The Minister of Justice is going to be working with the Minister Status of Women to bring forward legislation that protects survivors of violence and children and ensures dignity and respect,” she said.
One possibility Gold said that the justice department will consider is a change to the criminal code that reverses the onus of bail in repeat domestic violence instances.
Ontario Conservative MP Karen Vecchio told Power Play she believes that “in many cases, the victim is the one put on trial.”
“We’ve got to be very cautious what we’re doing to our victims because we’re victimizing each and every time they’re on the stand,” she said.
A statement from the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) noted the judge’s finding that his “conclusion that the evidence in this case raises a reasonable doubt is not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened.”
“It is clear that the criminal justice system is not the complete answer to addressing the sexual violence endemic in our society,” the statement went on.
“Systemic changes are required to the justice system in order to promote and protect women’s equality, but we must also focus on prevention.”
One of Ghomeshi’s accusers told Newstalk 1010 on Thursday before the verdict that she does not regret going ahead with criminal charges, “because I know now that there is a big flaw, a big hole, this needs to change.”
“This can’t go on like this,” she said. “Trying sexual assault cases like this is just not right.”