Veronica Appia and Natalia Vega
One minute Jian Ghomeshi was sweet and humble and the next minute he was physically abusive, the first witness told the court on Monday, on the first day of Ghomeshi’s sexual assault trial.
Ghomeshi, a former high profile CBC radio host, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one charge of overcoming resistance by choking. He is being tried at Toronto’s Old City Hall by Judge William Horkins without a jury.
The complainant described a night that ended with kissing in the front seat of Ghomeshi’s “Disney car” – a bright yellow Beetle – that suddenly turned into non-consensual hair pulling.
The complainant told the court Ghomeshi had reached around to grab her hair, pulling her back.
“I wasn’t sure what just happened,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to do or say.”
After that incident she said the two remained in the car talking but she said she was confused by the sudden change in his demeanor.
“It felt almost like a rage that wasn’t there the second before he did it,” she told the court.
The witness said despite the confusion she experienced on their first encounter she agreed to go out with him after another taping of his program >play.
She said the encounter ended with her taking a taxi while sobbing in the backseat.
The witness told the court she went to Ghomeshi’s house that night and the pair ended up kissing on his couch. After getting up to look around his house, she said Ghomeshi ended up behind her and grabbed her hair “harder than the first time,” pulled her down and punched her in the head “multiple times.”
“I felt like I was going to faint,” she said.
She told the court she started to cry and Ghomeshi’s reaction was to call her a cab and retreat to another room.
“He threw me out like trash,” she said.
After Crown attorney Mike Callaghan completed his examination, Ghomeshi’s lawyer Marie Henein cross-examined the witness by comparing her police statement and two interviews from 2014 to her testimony in court.
In interviews with CBC’s The National and As It Happens in October 2014, the witness stated that she was not intimate with Ghomeshi during their encounter in his car – a statement she testified in court was incorrect.
“I was focusing on the main parts,” she told the court while recalling her thought process.
The complainant testified that she also made mistakes in her initial statement and follow-up e-mails to police.
She said that following her statement on Nov. 1, 2014 in an e-mail to police she stated that she remembered wearing clip-in hair extensions at the time of the first incident. In court, she stated that this was also incorrect.
Later Henein questioned another e-mail conversation the woman had with police where she had a recollection of her banging her head on the window during the incident with Ghomeshi in his car.
After several exchanges between the witness and Henein, the witness told the court she did not hit her head against the window but had come close to doing so.
In another examination of the witness’s testimony, Henein clarified that Ghomeshi did not own a Volkswagen Beetle but a Volkswagen Golf, as stated by the witness in court, during the times the alleged sexual assaults took place.
Henein continued her grueling cross-examination of the witness at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
She introduced a video to the court depicting the witness giving her statement to police in 2014.
In the video, a detective questioned the witness about which way Ghomeshi had pulled her hair at the end of their initial outing together, the first of two incidents of sexual assault reported by the witness.
He asked the witness if Ghomeshi had pulled her hair toward the seat, and in the video she agreed that had happened. However, in court she said this statement was incorrect and that Ghomeshi had pulled her hair towards the window rather than the seat.
“These are memories and in the early days you remember early pieces of them, but as you sit you begin to remember them,” the witness told the court.
Henein then questioned the witness about the discrepancy between her testimony and what she initially told police about her second outing with Ghomeshi. That encounter took place at his house, where the witness said he grabbed her hair, pulled her to the ground and punched her repeatedly in the head.
Henein said the complainant indicated in her statement to police that she did not know how she got on the ground.
“When I was describing this, I am describing being pulled down,” the witness told the court. “I was being punched in the head violently. I was confused. So that’s where I’m saying I don’t know how I got there.”
Henein asked the witness if she agreed that she was so traumatized by the events that she couldn’t bear to watch Ghomeshi on television or listen to him on the radio.
The witness agreed this was true.
Henein also asked the witness if she had any dealings with Jian Ghoneshi.
The witness said no.
The defence team then showed the court two e-mails dating back to 2004, where the complainant reached out to Ghomeshi after the alleged 2003 assault.
The first was sent on Jan. 16 with the subject “Play>Boy” stating,
“Hello Play>boy Good to see you again! Your show is still great, when you take a break from ploughing snow naked, take a look at [website]. If you search you will find the video [name of friend] and I did. The song has a T.Rex flavor to it. If you want to keep in touch this is my email!!!! Or [phone number]”
Six months later, in an e-mail sent on June 22, the complainant attached a photo of herself wearing a string bikini and said the following:
“Hi Jian, I’ve been watching you on Screw The Vote and I thought I’d drop a line and say hello. Hope all is well. Say hello to [name of friend] for me if you see him.”
“You are now inviting the man who had traumatized you to contact you,” Henein said to the complainant. “Are you prepared to admit that you lied under oath?”
“I wanted Jian to call me so I can ask him why he violently punched me in the head,” the witness said. “I’m giving you, under oath, that I did not want to see him. The e-mail was bait.”
This final exhibit concluded the defence’s cross-examination. The Crown announced there will be no re-examination.
The trial is ongoing.
WITH FILES FROM CHRISTIANA CHAN, RYAN DURGY AND KATIE JONES