By Diana Mehta for The Canadian Press
The judge hearing the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial refused Thursday to release a bikini photo of a woman who testified against the disgraced broadcaster, saying courts have an obligation to protect the privacy and reduce the trauma of those who come forward.
Ghomeshi’s trial heard earlier this week that the woman, who cannot be identified, sent the photo to the former CBC Radio host 18 months after he allegedly assaulted her on two separate occasions.
During gruelling cross-examination by Ghomeshi’s lawyer, the woman explained she sent the photo as “bait” to encourage Ghomeshi to contact her so she could demand an explanation for the alleged assaults. She said, however, that she did not remember the emails when she spoke to police and Crown prosecutors.
A lawyer representing the Toronto Star, CBC, CTV, Global News and the Postmedia Network sought access to the photo, arguing that releasing it would be in the public interest.
“It may be a key piece of evidence,” Iris Fischer told Justice William Horkins, adding the media outlets would blur the woman’s face and any identifying details. “The public needs to understand your decision and decide if they agree …. That is public scrutiny.”
The Crown and the woman’s lawyer, however, argued vehemently against the photo’s release.
“Disclosure would have extremely deleterious impact on the proper administration of justice in Ontario,” said Crown attorney Michael Callaghan.
He explained that releasing the photograph could result in a “chilling effect” on other potential victims of sexual assault coming forward.
The complainant’s lawyer argued the issue at stake was not one of privacy, but the “very real risk” of identifying the woman. He added the witness has expressed real concern about the photo being made available.
The judge agreed with both the Crown and the complainant’s lawyer.
“It’s my view you don’t need to see it to get the picture,” he said. “There is a serious societal interest in respecting this witness’ privacy interest. It is important for complainants to know the courts will take seriously their role as a gatekeeper.”
Ghomeshi’s trial was set to move on to a new Crown witness later on Thursday.
The former host of CBC Radio’s popular culture show “Q” has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance by choking.
The trial has heard the alleged details behind the first two counts of sexual assault.
The woman testifying against Ghomeshi earlier this week said he was a charming gentleman with a dark side and attacked her in December 2002 and January 2003.
During the first incident, the woman said Ghomeshi suddenly yanked her hair while they were sharing a “sensuous” kiss. In the second incident in his home, she testified, he once again abruptly pulled her hair while they were kissing and punched her in the head.
Ghomeshi, 48, has betrayed no emotion during his trial, but has closely watched his lawyer as she conducts her questioning.
If convicted of sexual assault, he faces a maximum sentence of 18 months behind bars. The choking charge against him, however, carries a potential life sentence.
This story is republished with the permission of The Canadian Press.