UPDATED: March 24, 2016, 1:49 PM
A judge has found former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi not guilty of sex assault and choking charges.
Ontario Court Justice William Horkins delivered his decision at the Old City Hall courthouse this morning.
Ghomeshi pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count choking to overcome resistance.
In his decision, Horkins pointed to what he said were serious inconsistencies in the complainants’ testimony, and a “carelessness with the truth.”
He said he had no hesitation in concluding that Ghomeshi was not guilty.
When he delivered the decision, Ghomeshi and defence lawyer Marie Heinen hugged Ghomeshi’s mother and sister, who had both attended the entire trial.
The three complainants all left the courtroom with tears in their eyes.
Ghomeshi’s sister Jila gave a brief statement outside the courtroom.
“We are relieved but not surprised by the court’s decision today. It can only be surprising to those who rushed to judgment before the trial even started and before a single word of evidence had been heard,” she said.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Crown attorney Michael Callaghan said he would take the long weekend to consider the decision and discuss an appeal.
Callaghan’s statement was interrupted by a distraught protester, who was topless and had the words “Women declare Ghomeshi guilty” written on her back.
She could be heard screaming Ghomeshi’s name before she was tackled by police and dragged into the courthouse.
Ghomeshi later left through the back door of the courthouse with Heinen, looking down and walking quickly to a waiting car without responding to questions from reporters.
Two of the complainants have their identities protected by a publication ban. The other is Lucy DeCoutere, the Trailer Park Boys actor and a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
At the heart of the case, Horkins said, was the reliability of the witnesses and the assumption of innocence at the start of trial. Probably guilty is not enough, he told the court.
Horkins went through the accounts of the three complainants, who said Ghomeshi punched them, pulled their hair, or choked them during dates. Significant inconsistencies clouded their evidence, Horkins said.
The first complainant, who met Ghomeshi in 2002-2003, recalled Ghomeshi drove a “love bug”-style Volkswagen Beetle – an account later shown to be “demonstrably wrong,” Horkins said.
“In a case that turns entirely on the reliability of complainant this otherwise innocuous error takes on great significance,” Horkins said.
The judge said he found it difficult to believe DeCoutere, who he said showed a “carelessness with the truth.”
DeCoutere did not reveal information about emails, love letters and kissing after the alleged choking until right before her day in court.
“What is troubling is not lack of clarity but the shifting of facts from one telling to the next,” Horkins said.
Horkins said the third complainant was imprecise, unable to recollect whether Ghomeshi had his hands on her neck for a few seconds or 10 seconds. The third complainant had also exchanged about 5,000 messages with DeCoutere, where they said they wanted to “sink the prick.”
She also failed to tell police about a sexual encounter with Ghomeshi after the alleged assault, Horkins noted.
Ghomeshi may be acquitted, but he won’t get his job back at the CBC, said public broadcaster.
“The charges that were before the court in this trial and the judge’s ruling are unrelated to our decision to end Jian Ghomeshi’s employment with CBC. Based on the evidence that came to our attention, Mr. Ghomeshi’s actions were not in line with the values of the public broadcaster nor with our employee code of conduct,” said Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services, said in a written statement.
“We stand by our decision.”
Not even freezing rain could put a damper on the intense interest surrounding the trial.
Dozens of journalists and bystanders lined up outside the court early this morning, hoping to get a seat.
Demonstrators outside the courthouse carried signs that read “Stop victim blaming” and police are on hand to keep the peace.
Some said the complainants were unfairly scrutinized by Ghomeshi’s lawyer, who used correspondence between the complainants and Ghomeshi following the alleged assaults to contradict their testimony and undermine their credibility.
The demonstrators said they had hoped to block Ghomeshi’s entrance into the court.
“We don’t want to make it easy for him,” said protester Cynamin Maxwell.
Horkins delivered his ruling on five charges related to incidents that the complainants had alleged occurred between 2002 and 2003:
Count 1, sexual assault: The first complainant testified Ghomeshi forcefully pulled her hair as they were kissing in his car after she attended a taping of his CBC TV show >play.
Count 2, sexual assault: She also testified Ghomeshi pulled her hair again and struck her on the side of her head while they were kissing at his home on another occasion weeks later.
Count 3, sexual assault: DeCoutere testified that while at his home, Ghomeshi suddenly began kissing her and almost immediately put his hands on her throat, pushed her against the wall and slapped her twice, paused, then slapped her again.
Count 4, choking to overcome resistance: DeCoutere testified the choking left her struggling to breathe.
Count 5, sexual assault: The third complainant testified she and Ghomeshi were kissing on a park bench when he suddenly began roughly squeezing her neck.
Horkins was not asked to find a pattern between the accounts of the three women as the Crown did not make a similar-fact application, likely due to communication between two of the complainants.
Ghomeshi initially faced a total of eight charges.
Two sexual assault charges were withdrawn ahead of the trial after the Crown found no reasonable prospect of conviction.
Ghomeshi faces another trial in June on the one remaining count of sexual assault relating to a workplace incident.
With files from Dan Taekema