Following the acquittal of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi on charges of sexual assault, the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society is holding a panel discussion on campus to “balance protecting society from sexual assault with the legal rights of the criminally accused.”
The event is entitled, “Ghomeshi on Trial: Sexual Assault & the Law” and will be held on April 8 at the JJR Macleod Auditorium. It will include panelists Christie Blatchford, a columnist and criminal court reporter for the National Post, criminal lawyer David Butt, and defence lawyer Richard Litkowski; it will be moderated by litigation lawyer Lorne Honickman.
The University of Toronto does not endorse the event; it is being sponsored by the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) — a human rights group that focuses on equality for men and boys.
“The event is organized by an independent campus group and their activities do not reflect any position of the University of Toronto itself. Recognized campus groups can book space as per the Policy on the Temporary Use of Space and related guidelines,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of news and media relations.
“Sexual violence is disproportionately prevalent on university campuses, and so to have a Ghomeshi apologist event on our campus further condones sexual violence experienced by our students, and tells survivors the violation of their bodies is inconsequential to the university,” said Arts & Science Students’ Union executive-elect Pri Sharma.
“I mean, this narrative is already present on campuses, with the lack of clear sexual assault policies and inadequate code of conduct investigations, but allowing a specific event that celebrates defendant’s rights over survivors’ on our campus, is just beyond disappointing,” continued Sharma.
“The University is committed to open dialogue within our community. The ability to question, examine and comment on issues of the day is central to our mission,” said Blackburn-Evans.
According to CAFE’s press release for the event, Edward Sullivan, CAFE research director wants to have a “serious and respectful discussion” about the many issues raised by criminal sexual assault cases in Canada. Specifically, the panel wants to question, “Should defendants be more easily convicted in the hopes of encouraging more complainants to come forward? Should plaintiffs enjoy immunity from credibility examination?”
For second-year political science student Katherine Wells, discussions about sexual assault have brought the issue to the public’s attention. “Despite the unfortunate onslaught of victim-blaming rhetoric that the verdict of Ghomeshi’s trial stirred into the public domain, I think the publicity of the trial was ultimately important in the way that it facilitated mainstream dialogue; not only about the way sexual assault victims are treated in general, but also how our legal system disadvantages them from the start.”
She continued, “Although protecting citizens from being wrongly interred by the state is important, it should be equally important to protect complainants from a skewed system that could hardly be called fair or equal. The fact that this dialogue has become prominent is probably the one good thing to come from this trial; that people are openly questioning the biases in our laws and not simply accepting the status quo.”
With files from Stephanie Gibbon