The ruling was, in my opinion, in keeping with the narrow definition of the law. Do I still think Ghomeshi is a sexual predator? You bet. Why? The difference is the space between beyond a reasonable doubt and a balance of probabilities.
Using a measure of beyond reasonable doubt, especially in the absence of any other evidence, requires witness credibility. The witnesses omitted what turned out to be damning evidence in their original testimony. When that came to light, the judge deemed all of their testimony as not credible. The cases also had to be judged on their individual merits, that multiple women reported similar experiences couldn't be factored into the decision.
Using a balance of probabilities, that multiple women reported similar accounts of abuse, that he was accused of workplace harassment, that the complaint was fumbled (most likely to maintain a popular radio star), that he presented such a toxic work environment that a professor felt it necessary to keep interns away from him, and that he was legitimately dismissed from his workplace under the terms of his union contract for his behaviour, all point to him being a predator. I don't need a judge for that.
On a balance of probabilities, that these women omitted all the awkward, after aspects of their relationship with Ghomeshi, the ones that lost them their court cases, also make sense. Why would a woman maintain a relationship with a man after receiving a punch in the side of the head? After being choked? The answer is that women become accustom to rationalizing away unwanted behaviour. It's every woman who doesn't tell a stranger to leave them alone when told, unsolicited, "you'd be prettier if you smiled, sweetheart." It's every woman who let's it go when she's the recipient of unwanted male attention, because she doesn't want to cause a scene with some handsy jerk and she definitely doesn't want to top it off by being called a bitch or a tease. It's every woman who puts up with sexual harassment in the workplace because she's afraid to lose her job or be labeled a troublemaker. It's every woman who stays with a man after he hits her, because he promises he'll never do it again.
It's because when it comes to men and women, the playing field is vastly unequal. Let's take a trip through some recent political and judicial scandals that make that abundantly clear.
According to court documents, Justice Minister Toews had two extramarital affairs, one of which was with the family babysitter, who was of a questionable legal age and who he impregnated. He was also a deadbeat dad who failed to pay child support. All the while serving as an MP and cabinet minister. Following his voluntary retirement from politics, Toews was appointed to the Manitoba Queen's Bench.
Maxime Bernier, Conservative MP, left classified NATO documents at his ex-girlfriend's place for over a month. His ex had longstanding ties to organized crime, sparking international embarrassment over security concerns within the NATO community. For his misdeeds, he spent three years without a cabinet position and is now contemplating a run at leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
In 2011, Justice Robert Dewar gave a conditional sentence to a man who told a woman he would drive her to a party and instead drove her down a gravel road and raped her. The woman ran into the woods half naked and managed to flag down a passing motorist for help. In his decision, Dewar described Rhodes as a “clumsy Don Juan” who had the mistaken belief “sex was in the air” and a “heightened expectation” sex would occur. He blamed the woman for dressing suggestively, wearing make up, and wanting to party. After an outcry, the decision was overturned an a new trial order. Dewar was made to apologize to the victim and was temporarily banned from hearing sexual assault cases. As of 2012, Dewar was again hearing sexual assault cases.*
According to allegations (backed up by compelling text messages) Senator Don Meredith groomed a 16 year old girl for sex, a relationship that was consummated when she became legal at 18. At the same time, it also came to light that Meredith's masters and doctoral degrees were bogus. While booted from the Conservative caucus, Meredith still sits in the Canadian senate.
The police arrived at Rob Ford's door after a 911 call for domestic abuse. Police later witnessed Ford's wife with her face beaten. She refused to press charges against the father of her two children. When questioned regarding allegations about sexually harassing a former staffer, Ford stated he had more than enough pussy to eat at home. Ford was reelected to city council.
Lori Douglas, a former Manitoba justice, made headlines when it was revealed that her husband, without her knowledge or consent, published photos of Douglas engaged in sexual acts on the internet. Douglas was subject to a judicial inquiry that dragged on for four years, resulting in four years of public humiliation and forced retirement.
Helena Guergis, former Conservative MP and onetime Conservative rising star, was forced to resign from cabinet and expelled from the Conservative caucus in April of 2010 for unspecified reasons. Guergis was then subject to an RCMP inquiry and an ethic inquiry. The RCMP found no evidence of criminal wrong doing and the ethics commissioner fined Guergis $100 for failing to declare a mortgage within the 30-day reporting period for MPs, and contravened the MP Code of Ethics when she wrote a letter in support of a business to a municipal politician. That's it. That and her spouse became a national embarrassment to the Conservatives. In 2009, her husband, former MP Rahim Jaffer, was arrested for driving while under the influence and possession of cocaine. In March of 2010, Jaffer plead guilty to careless driving and the more serious charges were dropped. The light sentence caused a public uproar, especially when further investigation revealed Jaffer may have been in the company of escorts earlier in evening he was arrested. One month after the Jaffer verdict Guergis was turfed, her political career destroyed.
The moral of the story is that scandals, even ones that prompt national security concerns or defy principles of justice and the law, can be overcome as long as you're a man. As a woman, your career is over. Even if it's your husband's fault.
It shouldn't come as a surprise though, because when it comes to women's issues, political officials have a long history not standing up for women.
In 1982, MP Margaret Mitchell stood in the House and, in reference to a parliamentary report, raised the issue that one in 10 Canadian women were regularly beaten by their husbands. The House responded with laughter and heckling, right up until a video clip of it aired on the evening news to a public that didn't find wife beating funny. An apology was issued in the House the next day. This could have been a watershed movement for women's rights, but it wasn't.
One of the first actions of the previous Conservative government was to remove "equality" from the Status of Women's departmental mandate. They also slashed the department's budget by nearly 40 per cent, resulting in 12 of 16 offices closing and eliminating funding for advocacy groups, rape crisis centres, and women's health organizations.
The gap between wages earned by men and women in Canada is the eighth largest of OCED countries. In 2009, the laughably titled Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, replaced "pay equity", widely regarded as a human right, with "qualifications and market forces", and barred female public servants from complaining to the Human Rights Commission about job pay inequity.
The Conservatives scrapped the national childcare program proposed by the previous government and instead ponied up an additional $60 a month in baby bonuses. Daycare costs range from $900 to $1600 per child a month and that is if parents can find a space in daycare. Especially in large urban centers, there's more children than childcare providers. In a 10 year run, the Conservatives created zero new childcare spaces.
The Conservatives appointed an anti-choice MP, Rona Ambrose, as the minister to the Status of Women. Ambrose, in addition to casting her vote behind a bill designed to open the abortion debate, has twice voted against action to address the gender wage gap.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, in reference to serial killer Robert Pickton, “a law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven such as Grandma’s House while a suspected serial killer prowls the streets is a law that has lost sight of its purpose.” The Conservatives held public consultations, conducted the first ever Canadian sex-worker survey, and then disregarded the results entirely, making selling sex legal and buying sex illegal. So still illegal, and still forcing sex-workers into unsafe working conditions. Still no doubt, unconstitutional, but years away from a Supreme Court decision that says so.
Returning to lawmaker scandals, just one month after Justice Minister Peter MacKay tabled the new anti-prostitution bill in the house, declaring it would “protect those who are most vulnerable by going after the perpetrators, the perverts, those who are consumers of this degrading practice,” an Alberta MLA, who was arrested the year before for attempting to purchase the sexual services of two undercover Minnesota police officers, was welcomed back into the Progressive Conservative caucus.
In 2014, the Conservatives announced income splitting for married an common law couples with children under the age of 18 (but not actual income splitting, it was just a tax credit), at a cost of $2.2 billion, to encourage the lower income earning parent to stay home. The Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that the measure would benefit families with high incomes and encourage women (see pay gap above) to stay out of the workforce. Staying out of the workforce keeps women dependent on their husbands. Marriages end. Husbands lose their jobs. Husbands die. No consideration was given to the challenges women face when they return to the workforce after a prolonged absence. Nor was consideration given to the fact that women with older children who stay home are ineligible for a Canada disability pension, should they become ill. Of that $2.2 billion, divorced and single parents didn't see a dime.
In 2015, an NDP MP sponsored a motion, dubbed "A National Action Plan to End Violence against Women". The motion was to develop a national policy to address violence against women as exists in other countries, like Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The Conservatives voted it down. Even the Minister of the Status of Women voted against it.
Also in 2015, the Conservatives spent nearly half a million dollars attempting to force one woman to dress the way they wanted, but had zero dollars and zero intent towards an inquiry into over 1,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, an estimated 300 of which went missing while the Conservatives were in office.
Between 2006 and 2015, Stephen Harper appointed 59 senators, more than any prime minster in history. The argument made in support the lack of gender balance within government is that you only get to elect those who run. The senate is an appointed body and, male or female, any person who meets the requirements can become a senator. Therefore, a gender balanced senate is absolutely achievable. Harper appointed 43 men and 16 women, leaving the gender balance of the senate just slightly worse than when he took office 10 years ago. Perhaps taking stock of his track record, Harper didn't bother to show for the 2015 electoral debate on women's issues.
One of the most telling events in terms of women's lack of standing, was a 2010 decision by the Harper’s government to eliminate funding for abortion, which is legal in Canada, from its foreign-aid focus on maternal health. Several Conservative cabinet ministers confirmed that this ban extended to war rape victims, like the kidnapped Boka Haram girls, and child brides, whose underdeveloped bodies are ripped apart by babies. Five weeks before the decision was announced, Nancy Ruth, Conservative senator and the "Nancy" of the Nancy's Chair in Women's Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University (and of later cold Camembert and broken crackers fame), stood on Parliament Hill before a group of 80 international development advocates gathered in response to the Conservative's decision to eliminate abortion funding from foreign aid. Her recommendation: "Shut the fuck up on this issue. If you push it, there will be more backlash." Ruth went on to say, “this is now a political football. This is not about women’s health in this country.”
Ruth's message was loud and clear: keep your mouth shut, don't fight back, because if you do worse things will happen. It's the message of abusers. It's the message of a society that gives men a free pass for bad behaviour while it pillories women. It's the message that makes women brush off sexual harassment in the workplace and it's the message that keeps them from reporting sexual assaults. Stay quiet, suck it up, if you don't it will go worse for you.
It's a message that should have died back in 1982 when the House of Commons laughed at Margaret Mitchell for standing up and saying one in ten Canadian women are victims of domestic abuse. But there is still hope. The Ghomeshi women may have lost in a court of law, but they didn't lose when they launched a national conversation about sexual assault. They didn't lose when they outed a sexual predator and alerted women to stay away from him. They didn't lose when they inspired other women to speak out about assault and abuse.
Canadian women didn't lose when they cast their votes against a government that spent 10 years actively working against them. When Prime Minister Trudeau announced his first cabinet would include an equal number of women and men, "because it's 2015", the virtues of merit-based appointments gushed across newspapers nationwide like so much sewage from a broken pipe. In 20 years of following politics, never has so much been made of merit as it was in the days that followed Trudeau's announcement. But all the editorializing and all the patronizing didn't change the fact that for the first time in Canadian history, cabinet composition is half women and half men. Just as it should be in a country that is half women and half men.
* I'm awaiting the outcome of the judicial inquiry into Justice Robin Camp, who in a sexual assault trial repeatedly called the woman "the accused". During the trial he asked, "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" and, "Why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?" The 19 year-old victim weighed one hundred pounds. Her attacker, a man in his 30s, weighed 240 pounds.