Feminist chickens come home to roost at the Ghomeshi trial

The Ghomeshi trial has to have been a giant embarrassment for Ottawa law professor and hard-core feminist Elizabeth Sheehy. In 2013, Sheehy published a book, Defending Battered Women on Trial. In it, Sheehy proposed that women who experience extreme abuse from their male partners should have the right to kill them pre-emptively – in their sleep, say – without fear of being charged with murder.

According to Sheehy, women in abusive relationships are like prisoners of war, for whom it is a duty to kill their captors. To be sure, Sheehy’s target group would not include the three women who made such a hash of their testimonies at the Ghomeshi trial, since they were not in any way captive to Ghomeshi as the women she envisages are, nor did they experience extreme abuse.

But that hardly matters, because Sheehy’s thesis rests on the same foundational articles of faith regarding all women victims, of all male abuse, that the Ghomeshi trial has taken a jackhammer to: namely, that women never lie about abuse and that the justice process is biased toward men.

She has been proved wrong on both counts.

To begin with the second myth: Handbooks for police across the country reflect the feminist vision of women that Sheehy embraces. In fact a decade ago some lawyers launched a human rights complaint against Alberta Justice over their “Handbook for police and prosecutors dealing with domestic violence (the twin gender crime to sexual assault) because it portrayed men always as perpetrators and women always as victims throughout its 160 pages, and because the concepts of “innocent until proven guilty” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” didn’t make a single appearance in all those pages.

The guiding principle of the handbook was that women must be believed and supported. Even in cases where abuse was known to be bilateral, the Handbook insisted that – contrary to the law – the police must charge the “dominant aggressor” – i.e. lay charges against the man.

Stonewalling and delays kept the case from moving forward, and the group ran out of resources and will to pursue it. So to this day the Handbook remains on the website of Alberta Justice, and continues to be used to train police and prosecutors there. According to former family law lawyer Grant Brown, who was one of the complainants, the Alberta Handbook is typical of the training manuals and materials deployed in other provinces and in other Western countries.

It would certainly seem to be the case in Ontario, given the brief police interviews and, in general, the interrogative kid gloves with which the three complainants in the Ghomeshi case were handled by the Crown, leaving the field of real inquiry wide open to a defence lawyer with no gender axe to grind.

As the National Post’s Christie Blatchford reported, Toronto Police Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, head of the sex crimes unit, told reporters when the Ghomeshi case was getting underway, that “We believe victims (women) when they come in, 100 percent. We believe them right from the onset, there’s never a doubt about believing them….” Such absolutism does not arise from any individual officer’s personal ethos; it arises from policy and training.

As for the old feminist mantra that women never lie about abuse, can we finally lay that canard to rest? Women have lied about abuse and will continue to lie. When? When they are unscrupulous people to begin with, and there are certainly enough of those – male and female – to go around.

That being a given, they will lie when it comes to their own self-interest, when there is some reward they value for lying (even for so tawdry a motive as celebrity), when there is vengeance to be easily taken on a creep they perceive to have humiliated them, and massive public sympathy to be gained, or when there is custody of children to be acquired, or for a variety of other reasons. To add to the temptation – as we have seen in many demonstrably false allegations of rape on campus – there is usually no material consequence for doing so, even when their lies are exposed in courts of law.

And it is precisely this temptation, and this human weakness, that Prof Sheehy’s ideology-based, double-standards proposition would encourage.

As Grant Brown writes to me: “In a month or so, the Ghomeshi trial will have faded in the collective memory, and police, prosecutors, judges and politicians will go right on implementing the disgraced ideology. You [journalists covering gender bias in the justice system] will never run out of work.”

Nothing would make me happier than to lose gender bias in the law as a topic to write about. There is injustice enough in other areas to occupy my time. And if Prof Sheehy really wants women to be taken seriously as equals to men, the very last thing we should be doing is assigning them the role of children who are incapable of assuming moral agency in their relationships.

Feminists say they strive for equality. So do non-feminists. So we should offer the same right to privacy for men accused of sexual abuse by women as we accord to the women who charge them. Withhold their names until after due process has been achieved. That would immediately end the media circus that actress Lucy (“I love your hands!”) DeCoutere encouraged and wallowed with delight in, and which did so much to further her image of traumatized, immaculate victimhood.

And let us stop calling women “victims” before we know the facts. Call them “accusers.” It has a much more grown up vibe to it.

The Prince Arthur Herald
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