‘Ottawa’ Kathryn Borel Just Destroyed Ghomeshi’s and the CBC’s Efforts to Rescue Their Reputations
So much for best-laid plans. After hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and public-relations fees, Jian Ghomeshi once again looked to be riding high, his reputation, if not fully rehabilitated, at least rejuvenated.
He’d made some smart moves. Rather than rushing forward with an ill-fated attempt to come at the CBC seeking arbitration for reinstatement and damages (which he had no legal standing to do), he proceeded first, and quickly, to face criminal charges where the accused always has significant advantages, and secured his first acquittals in March. Presumably feeling less sanguine about his prospects in the last charge against him, he entered into a plea bargain and issued a craftily worded apology, stating to the world that, if he’d had ethical lapses in the past, he is now a changed and very sensitive man.
Then all the artifice came crashing down.
Immediately after walking out of Court, the accuser in this last case, Kathryn Borel, hurled a flame-thrower, re-accusing Ghomeshi of sexual assaults against her as well as “near daily verbal assaults for three years, and emotional manipulation.” As she put it: “This is the story of a man who had immense power over me and my livelihood, admitting that he chronically abused his power and violated me in ways that violate the law. Mr. Ghomeshi’s constant workplace abuse of me and my many colleagues and friends has since been corroborated by multiple sources! In a perfect world, people who commit sexual assaults will be convicted for their crimes. Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of having done the things that I have outlined today.
Jian Ghomeshi has apologized, but only to me. There are 20 other women who have come forward through the media and made serious allegations about his violent behaviour. Women who have come forward to say that he punched, choked, and smothered and silenced them. And yet Mr. Ghomeshi hasn’t met any of the allegations head-on, as he vowed to in his Facebook post of 2014… all he has said about his other accusers is that they are all lying and that he is not guilty. And remember: that is what he said about me”.
Borel’s full-frontal charge undoes everything that Ghomeshi had accomplished in his year-and-a-half of rehabilitation management and issues Ghomeshi a clear challenge: If she is lying, as he once claimed, her comments are slanderous, and egregiously so.
Borel has all but openly invited him to sue her. If he doesn’t, people will draw the obvious conclusion. But if he does, he’ll lose all the courtroom protections of the criminal process, and face instead the balanced ones of a civil court case where a judge must decide what happened, not whether a delineated criminal offense is made out “beyond any reasonable doubt”.
CBC’s handling of this crisis was, in fact, appalling from the outset
But Borel’s attack was not limited to Ghomeshi. “When I went to the CBC for help, what I received in return was a directive that yes, he could do this and yes, it was my job to let him. The relentless message to me, from my celebrity boss and the national institution we worked for, were that his whims were more important than my humanity or my dignity”.
This comment was long overdue. Ghomeshi handled his PR campaign well in the aftermath of the scandal, but the CBC has handled its own publicity brilliantly. And on Wednesday it was once again publicly reminding everyone, after Borel’s announcement, just how proactive CBC management has purportedly been in addressing any problems in the workplace.
CBC’s handling of this crisis was, in fact, appalling from the outset. But it succeeded in quickly pre-empting the necessary independent investigation. It retained a lawyer, with whom it had had a previous relationship, to conduct its “investigation.” And who ran that investigation? The CBC’s own legal and human resource departments — the very ones who should have been the subject of the investigation. The probe’s mandate was carefully limited to looking incidents at two shows involving Ghomeshi, rather than any broader sexual harassment issues at the CBC. And most egregiously, staff at the CBC were warned that anything they said in the investigation would be used against them and they themselves could be subject to discipline. Predictably (and responsibly), the CBC’s workers’ union instructed its members not to participate.
So what was the result? An anodyne report that did not name names, blame or point fingers and, most significantly, told Canadians nothing they did not already know — or, rather, less than had already been revealed. But this internal investigation’s real purpose was accomplished: It pre-empted a real independent investigation from outside the CBC. That, like the Gomery Commission that investigated Liberal government corruption, would result in the necessary heads rolling to sanitize a dysfunctional culture that has become endemic and corrupts and perverts the legal and ethical responsibilities of employers in 2016.
Hopefully, Kathryn Borel’s courageous stand will be the catalyst for an independent government commission at the CBC. It is sorely needed.
Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt & Grosman LLP, employment and labour lawyers. He practises employment law in eight provinces. Employment Law Hour with Howard Levitt airs Sundays at 1 p.m. on NEWSTALK 1010 in Toronto.