The criminal proceedings against former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi for sexual assault have reached a conclusion this week, after it was reported that the Crown would withdraw the final sexual assault charge that was alleged to have occurred by a former colleague at the CBC. The Crown is expected to announce later this week that Ghomeshi will sign a peace bond that may include a provision to stay away from the complainant.
The alleged sexual assault was said to have occurred in 2007 during a producer meeting for Mr. Ghomeshi’s radio show, at which time the complainant had yawned, prompting Mr. Ghomeshi to say “I want to hate fuck you, to wake you up”. The complainant also alleged that Mr. Ghomeshi gave her “uninvited back massages [where his] hands would slide down just a little too close to the tops of my breasts”, and that “he grabbed my rear end and claimed he couldn’t control himself because of my skirt”.
The CBC fired Ghomeshi in October 2014, which occurred days after Ghomeshi voluntarily showed CBC executives a cell phone video depicting a woman he dated with bruises on her body that were apparently caused by a cracked rib. Ghomeshi blamed a woman he described as an ex-girlfriend for spreading lies about him and orchestrating a campaign with other women to “smear” him. In March 2016, Mr. Ghomeshi was found not guilty of sexual assault and the choking of three complainants.
The decision was widely condemned by the public, however most in the legal community agreed (however begrudgingly) with the verdict, particularly after the complainants in that decision had their testimonies impeached by the defence. Some legal experts even went as far as suggesting that Mr. Ghomeshi may arguably have a case for malicious prosecution against the Crown.
The media focused a great deal of its attention on the Crown’s use of peace bonds (see for example: CBC, National Post, CP24), and the result was heralded as a definitive victory for Mr. Ghomeshi’s defence team. In effect, the peace bond was made as the result of the Crown conceding that it did not have adequate evidence with which to pursue the sexual assault allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi.
A peace bond is a court order to keep the peace and to be on good behaviour for a period of time, and it can also include conditions that restrict the accused from contacting the complainant, as well as a number of other conditions. As noted by various media legal analysts, peace bonds are commonly used in such circumstances where the Crown wishes to withdraw charges that are based on the allegations of a complainant.
In the case of Mr. Ghomeshi, the resolution of the allegations in exchange for a peace bond is presumably a win-win scenario, as the circumstances surrounding the case do not suggest that Mr. Ghomeshi is alleged to pose an imminent threat of danger to the complainant in this case. For many other accused persons in Canada who agree to such peace bonds however, peace bonds can lead to a tumultuous path where they can become more prone for re-arrest. As discussed in previous blog posts, breaches of court orders such as peace bonds can lead to a greater risk of criminal sanctions for previously accused persons.
In a 2015 report submitted to the federal government by criminologist Cheryl Wesbter, it was observed that in the past 15 years, the proportion of individuals charged with a “failure to comply with court order” as their most serious charge had more than doubled for both adults and youths. This phenomenon led Ms. Webster to conclude that “a vicious cycle is seemingly being created whereby the criminal justice system manufactures, in effect, its own crime”.
While the Crown’s offer of a peace bond resolution would appear to be an unequivocal sign of victory in the case of Mr. Ghomeshi, the subtext of the media’s coverage that the peace bond is a meaningless concession made by the defence is not entirely accurate. Although Mr. Ghomeshi himself would not appear to be at a high risk to breach a peace bond, other accused individuals subject to peace bonds may in effect be introducing themselves to the vicious cycle described by Ms. Webster.
For anyone who has been accused in a crime, it is important that they carefully understand the consequence of any resolutions reached with the Crown, including peace bonds. Failure to fully appreciate the scope of peace bonds can lead to re-arrest for breaching conditions, which can include prohibitions on possessing weapons or from being in proximity to certain locations.