The unmarked police car came to escort me to court. I couldn’t believe the day had finally come and that I was the first. I was to speak the first words in a trial so many had been waiting for. It was an immense amount of pressure.
I suppose ignorance is bliss. I had been prepared for her tactics and methods but no one can prepare you for this experience. I was fortunate to be able to sit in the court while my lawyer argued about media issues. It gave me time to acclimatize to the environment.
Victim witness assistance (who are appointed by the court to help you through court procedures, also known as VWAP), walked me in. We walked through the back row to get to our seats. People were staring at me as I brushed past. It was nothing like I imagined. In the gallery were people dressed any which way with back packs, sketch pads, computers, phones, food, very messy and it didn’t particularly smell very good. Do these people throw stones too? I sat in my seat and watched. For a few brief minutes I could disappear into the crowd as if I were one of them. Then it seemed as fast as I had entered my little fantasy I was pulled out and told to go to my witness seat. I stepped over more backpacks, coats and feet and tried to humbly take my seat reminding myself why I was there. It’s not about me I kept saying to myself. I’m just here to tell a story. I had been looking at Jian from my seat from the gallery. He hadn’t seen me yet but that also changed quickly and his unawareness of my presence soon changed to a cold hard stare. He stared at me a lot the first day and a couple of times I was able to return those stares as I questioned his abuse.
I stated my name, held the bible, and took an oath. A waste of time as Ms. Henein seemed to put more emphasis on what I had said while not under oath than what I said under oath. Why bother? I tried to stay in the moment and not look ahead into the future for that would have rendered me useless. In this moment I’m fine. Just saying my name. Then very quickly I am being cross-examined by the crown. A familiar, friendly face. I tried to focus on his face and fade out the gallery full of people staring at me, the camera in my face and the microphone that wasn’t cooperating with me very well. Then the chair they gave me for my bad back. It was huge with little legroom left in the tiny booth. I was trying to use all the mindfulness meditation I’d practiced to stay focused and be in the moment. I brought a little crystal stone to hold because I am very fidgety and I needed something to squeeze when things got rough. So there I am, trying to think about my posture, my breath, be in the moment, listen carefully, not pay attention to the country watching you, and listen carefully to the questions.
Then it’s cross-examination time. The woman from Victim Witness said “it’s going to get rough”. That wasn’t helpful. Was she saying I couldn’t handle it? Was she going to give me a white flag to wave if I can’t take anymore? So back on I went. Bring it on Ms. Henein, after all you are the one in the hot seat at the end of the day, or should I say hot heels. You and your black pointy nails. Shocking resemblance to Cruella DeVille I thought. She skins people not puppies. I go home but you are the one being paid to do a good job and earn your wage.
I can’t say she scared me. Annoyed me. I was prepared for her tactics. She does her job as well as any high-paid actor does. Yes, she and her co-star are very high paid actors to play this part and they are only as good as their last performance.
She bobbed and weaved all over the place pulling her glasses on and off in a timely manner. All part of her ploy to rattle me and get me unnerved. At one point I refused to look at her, at which point she shouts out as if to a child “I’m over here”. I still wouldn’t look at her, I looked at his Honour, then when I decided to look again I looked past her over her shoulder. It’s not HER court. It’s his Honour’s court and the only one at that time deserving of my respect. It was the only sense of control I could get since I was in fact all alone up there being attacked.
Ms. Henein wasn’t about trying to find the truth. This wasn’t about justice. This wasn’t a discussion about facts and fact-finding. This was a performance with information conveniently twisted and/or left out to make me look like a liar.
It didn’t help that the police had forgotten to inform me of my rights from the beginning, and tried to dissuade me from retaining the counsel that I was legally entitled to.
She had an unfair advantage. This wasn’t an even playing field. I couldn’t ask questions. I couldn’t clarify questions. I was sitting there getting attacked hour after hour. But I did it. I was the sacrificial lamb. I did this for all the women who have been sexually assaulted to see we need to speak up. What I hope the country that watched me so closely saw was a need for change. This is not how a sexual assault case should have been tried. This was wrong on every level.
It was like being on a game show with the world watching, and if you answered the question wrong you received a poison arrow in the head.
My adrenaline was extremely high. Not because she scared me. Because I was getting attacked. I knew I could fight back but it was difficult to take it for so long. Why was she taking the truth and turning it into a lie? How is this justice? Not even close. This is a game and I was the entertainment for the day.
The fact that the police had neglected to inform me of many things from the beginning also changed the trial from being about facts to Ms. Henein making up truths and saying the word lie as many times as possible throughout those two days.
She never once challenges the allegations. Not once. Untouched. She did, however, challenge my memory. Not my memory of the assaults, but the collateral details, despite my repeating that as I sat with the memories they became clearer and at first it was the main events which I remembered. It’s impossible to forget being punched in the head.
Did she and everyone else forget I had mentioned to the crown that I may have sent an email? Would it not be fair to say that since we actually didn’t have contact after that it’s not a shock I wasn’t sure I had sent them?
When I saw them and the picture, my first thought was “oh, that’s the picture I used”. I wasn’t embarrassed about the picture. There was nothing salacious about that picture but I wasn’t happy about the big drum roll performance build up to presenting them even when I had said to her that I can explain as she tried to twist my words about anger. I actually tried not to laugh. She was so transparent and predictable. There wasn’t anything that surprised or shocked me other than the fact that she was extremely annoying.
Why did I send emails? As I had said in court, I wanted to speak to him. I wanted to know why this man had hurt me. I had thought it was just me and I didn’t know what I had done to deserve what he did. No one knows how I feel about what happened. You can guess and judge that it is something else because that may be the way you would handle it. There is no one way of reacting to abuse, but women typically like to fix things or get answers. It’s our nature. I wanted to know why. If I had emailed and said “hi, call me” and I was angry, I would assume he would ignore me. I tried being friendly in one, then in another I upped the ante by mentioning our mutual friend, then upped it again by sending the infamous picture. Had I sent a picture of my puppy I wouldn’t have expected a response. He never did respond, but that was the method to the madness. Marie mentioned something about the hour in which I had sent them. Late. Yes. I had kids that needed a lot of my attention and I have always loved the late-night hours of peace and quiet. I don’t think anything I did was unusual, however many were quick to judge. I didn’t look or sound surprised and I was a little taken back that people are so quick to judge when it’s not them. But I don’t mind. I know the truth and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.
This system of attacking victims on the stand is not the answer to trying sexual assault cases. I would like to see something put in place that is more civilized and even. No yelling, sneering, pacing, and trying to upset the witness while telling the court how much of a liar she is. A system that might look something more like a civil trial. I think all witnesses should have access to counsel before making admissible statements, and failing that, it should be mandatory that the police read the witness their rights as the accused gets read theirs. The system is unclear and uneven. The witness can easily get confused, with the police and victim witness not being confidential, to the crown not being able to talk about details (because they are not defense attorneys) and it’s really not their job. It’s all too confusing. It’s unfair that a common person with no defense can be put in front of a professional who argues for a living and be expected to go through with a fair trial. This is not justice. I want to see change. I want all women to know their rights going in from the beginning and I am going to do my best to be a voice for change.
As for Jian Ghomeshi, this trial with all its flaws and inconsistencies was just the beginning. We have opened the door a crack, and it’s only a matter of time before that door gets blown wide open.