Jian Ghomeshi, Gerald Regan and the court of public opinion


Jian Ghomeshi

What a wild, weird week! The bodies from the Parliament Hill shootings and the Quebec murder-by-car had not been buried, their meaning not yet processed, when the CBC announced last Sunday it was severing ties with its most famous radio host, Jian Ghomeshi, for reasons unspecified.

By that evening, Ghomeshi had specified his version in a defiant Facebook post about his penchant for “consensual” “rough sex” and the “jilted ex-lover” out to get him. He would sue the CBC for $55 million.

By morning, the ping pong of news/counter news had careened into accusations far more sinister: not one ex-lover but several women, all accusing Ghomeshi, not of consensual sex, but of unprovoked, unwanted violence.

Then events pin-balled, emotions collided. More women, more stories, all eerily similar — mostly young women, sometimes juniors at Q or fans, pursued on social media with flattery, persistence, obsession; a super-friendly, flattering ever more needy Ghomeshi, the dates that often began and ended with out-of-nowhere punches, face-turned teddy bears and “you-must-leave’s” to those who cried or complained…

Followed by online debates about who knew what when; who should have done what before… the graphed torrent of “unlikes” on Ghomeshi’s Facebook page… his own crisis management team’s decision to ditch him… the brave women who stepped forward to make public their j’accuse… the announcement late last week of a police investigation…


Gerald Regan

It all reminded me of another time, another public figure, another story.

As with Ghomeshi, there had long been stories about 1970s Nova Scotia Premier Gerald Regan’s relationships with women. But few claimed to know details until someone — a man whose own darker motivations were partisan and personal — unleashed the genie from that bottle long after Regan had left office.

By the time it was over, in 1998, more than 30 women told police of Regan’s alleged unwanted sexual advances, up to and including rape. There were charges. There was a trial on the most serious of them. In court, Regan’s high-powered defence attorney grilled the accusers relentlessly. The jury, ultimately, found him not guilty.

But the court of public opinion — armed with the evidence presented in court under oath and cross examined, including evidence the jury didn’t hear — was able to render its own informed verdict.

We shouldn’t hold our breaths for a legal ending we may want in the Ghomeshi case. There are complicated rules about admissibility of evidence, legitimate, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt bars for conviction.

But due process is still the best process we have.

We should be grateful to the women who have taken the first difficult, brave step along that road.


My 1999 book, Not Guilty: The Trial of Gerald Regan (Stoddart) details both the political career of Gerald Regan and the 1990s investigation into the allegations against him, as well as the court case. I also wrote a story for The Coast in April 2002, about the impact and aftermath of the jury’s Not Guilty verdict.

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