On March 24, Jian Ghomeshi, former host of the hugely popular CBC Radio program Q, was found not guilty on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking to overcome resistance. The verdict was met with dismay by many, including members of the Canadian music industry.
The FADER spoke with several Toronto artists about their reactions to the verdict, all of whom had signed the “Gesture Of Love And Support” letter in solidarity with Ghomeshi's accusers. We have reached out to Ghomeshi for comment.
Why did you start the “Gesture of Love” petition in 2014?
Schmidt: Amy Lam (Life of A Craphead) and I wrote the statement together in the early days when Ghomeshi had [written a Facebook post], painting a picture of a lying jilted ex out to get him. The broad public was buying it. This very public event was paralleling so many experiences victims go through in isolation, and people were cracking open as they were forced to engage with garbage rape myths on social media. People were finally allowed to be publicly angry that a known abuser had gone so many years protected. Ours was just a small gesture of support on the virtual platform, like victims give each other in real life, to counterbalance the dominant narrative and minimize the emotional work that people had to do. If you didn't want to argue every wad playing devil's advocate you could post the statement instead.
Are there sufficient support structures for abused women within your communities? Are the concerns and fears of women taken seriously?
No. It's a hard economy, and in the old boys and new bros-dominated arts and service industries (most people work in both to get by), employment is precarious and the "likable" keep jobs, get taken on tour, and so on. "Likable" is defined by those old boys and new bros. So there's a fear of speaking out against abusive people in power because who will hire a feminist killjoy? Sufficient supports for victims would look like safe houses, accessible long-term counseling, free alternative healing medicine, housing support, and guaranteed annual incomes so people don't have to work for abusers. If you get assaulted you have to just keep going along in life like nothing happened.
Has the Ghomeshi trial changed anything in the music industry?
At the street level, yes. It's forced most people I know to talk with their bro friends about sexual assault and the casual misogyny that eats away at us. I hope this will lead to more men knowing how to take sexual assault seriously so the rest of us aren't just suffering and supporting each other in silence. But the broad Canadian music industry doesn't exist in isolation. It's an apparently sexist arm of a cultural apparatus that is run mostly by men and heavily subsidized by a government founded on the theft of Indigenous land, a process that is ongoing and includes a deep violence against Indigenous women. What I'm getting at is that a great many people who succeed and set the tone in this culture are willing to ignore all sorts of violence for their own benefit. My sense of the people who run the industry—lawyers, promoters, and many successful performers—is that they probably have other friends like Ghomeshi and some stake in the order of things remaining as is.
Miranda: The Ghomeshi verdict is distressing to me because it appeared as though it was the victims who were put on trial, not Jian. It left me with so many questions, as well: Why didn't Jian take the stand? Why did the prosecution not bring in a psychologist? Why were the victims not prepared for cross-examination? Was the prosecution high?
From the beginning, I believe women. Even when the story was still in its earliest days, I believed women, partly because I had also heard about Jian for some time.
At no point was a psychologist called to the stand to explain why a victim of abuse would attempt to "patch things up" with their abuser, a point which the defense lawyer played to her advantage; or how trauma affects the brain?
I also found it incredibly upsetting that the defense was able to discredit one of the victims for mis-remembering the kind of vehicle Jian had at a certain time, and use it to imply that she must've mis-remembered the abuse, as well. It's fucking insulting.
I'm no legal expert, but I've been following the case since the beginning back when I had some hope that justice would be served, what with the sheer volume of women coming forward against Jian. But, as we saw, the justice system is broken and actively works against victims of abuse. As Anna Leventhal put it so well in The Toronto Star, to have a chance as a victim in the legal system, you must:
"Take detailed notes of your assault, ideally while it’s happening. Don’t laugh, don’t joke, don’t try to normalize the situation. Be consistent: don’t have complicated feelings, don’t contact your assaulter, definitely don’t speak to other women about what happened, especially not if it might have happened to them too. In other words, don’t do anything that a conscious, complex, vulnerable being might do when faced with a traumatic situation."
Sadly, this is one case of many which goes to show that the system does not work for survivors. In the Jian case, it seems as though the victims were thrown into a ring of hungry lions, with no knowledge of how to feed them without sacrificing themselves.
I believe women, because they have nothing to gain by choosing to relive their abuse and bear the brunt of what should be Jian's shame, not theirs.
This is what rape culture looks like.
Something good needs to come out of this, though I'm having trouble identifying what that is exactly.
Stelmanis: [When the verdict came down] I was at home and heard it on the Internet. It was pretty disgusting, the quotes that are coming from the judge, and just the logic behind the whole case, that he wasn’t convicted because the women didn’t act appropriately. Obviously in the cases of sexual abuse, if women left when something bad happened, it wouldn’t be a problem. Women are stuck in abusive relationships for years and decades. Often abusive people are psychologically manipulative. They’re taking you for a ride. They’re being abusive at some points but at others they’re making you feel amazing. It’s a very awkward place to be.
I was aware of his reputation. I had heard through friends at the CBC. The first time my band was on Q, we all got such a creep vibe from him. That’s when the twins Sari and Romi [of Tasseomancy] were in my band and he was being inappropriate and flirty with them. [After] he called my label and said “I just wanted to know how many album sales Austra did today, because usually after Q [bands] get a big bump.” He was totally aware of the power that he had.
It’s a classic “big fish small pond scenario” People in the states don’t know who he was, but Jian Ghomeshi was huge in Canada. I think people were just afraid to cross his path. I know I was in that interview. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to accuse him of sexual assault and deal with that backlash.
[The trial] was a huge deal in Toronto. Everybody in the music scene was talking about it. And it’s weird because everybody knew about [Ghomeshi’s reputation] and it was just allowed to happen for so long. People started to feel like “Why didn’t we do anything about this?” It was almost like, shock that he was allowed to get away with it for so long. I didn’t know it was getting to the point of physical abuse. I just thought he was a man in a position of power that hit on girls.
We’re entering a space now where if you’re a smart guy, if you’re sane and cool, you’re going to align yourself with feminism. But now we’re dealing with this 2.0 version of masculinity where a lot of men are very righteous about it. So you have these men that consider themselves to be feminists but when it comes to the practice, they’re not actually allies. So that’s almost a more dangerous place to be. That’s kind of what Jian Ghomeshi was, but behind closed doors he doesn’t act or even realize he’s not practicing what he’s preaching.