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Editorial

The cult of celebrity and justice denied

Kathryn Borel</p>

Kathryn Borel

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/5/2016 (1193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is an ending and, at the same time, it is hopefully a beginning. It also raises questions about CBC management and its responsibilities in an era of celebrity and the pursuit of ratings.

On Wednesday, Jian Ghomeshi agreed to submit to a peace bond and, in return, the remaining sexual-assault charges against him were dropped. The disgraced former host of CBC’s Q also apologized in court, finally acknowledging he had acted in a sexually inappropriate manner.

His accuser, Kathryn Borel, delivered a scathing statement outside the Toronto courtroom, saying the issue will not be over until Mr. Ghomeshi “admits to everything that he’s done.” Earlier this year, Mr. Ghomeshi was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking amidst criticism the court system treats victims of sexual violence unfairly. Indeed, this newspaper has argued for a whole-scale reform of the system to improve conviction rates and ensure justice for those who have been assaulted. Many have credited the Ghomeshi trial, while difficult to watch, for opening up a discussion about sexual violence and the justice system — and that is a good thing.

Ms. Borel said that while employed by CBC in 2008 and reporting to Mr. Ghomeshi, he grabbed her and simulated a sex act. But Ms. Borel’s statement on the steps of the courthouse also pointed out the perversity of the cult of celebrity. When she complained to management, it was made clear: “The relentless message to me from my celebrity boss and the national institution we worked for were that his whims were more important than my humanity or my dignity.” In other words, ratings at this publicly funded entity are more important than people: suck it up, princess.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/5/2016 (1193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is an ending and, at the same time, it is hopefully a beginning. It also raises questions about CBC management and its responsibilities in an era of celebrity and the pursuit of ratings.

On Wednesday, Jian Ghomeshi agreed to submit to a peace bond and, in return, the remaining sexual-assault charges against him were dropped. The disgraced former host of CBC’s Q also apologized in court, finally acknowledging he had acted in a sexually inappropriate manner.

His accuser, Kathryn Borel, delivered a scathing statement outside the Toronto courtroom, saying the issue will not be over until Mr. Ghomeshi "admits to everything that he’s done." Earlier this year, Mr. Ghomeshi was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking amidst criticism the court system treats victims of sexual violence unfairly. Indeed, this newspaper has argued for a whole-scale reform of the system to improve conviction rates and ensure justice for those who have been assaulted. Many have credited the Ghomeshi trial, while difficult to watch, for opening up a discussion about sexual violence and the justice system — and that is a good thing.

Ms. Borel said that while employed by CBC in 2008 and reporting to Mr. Ghomeshi, he grabbed her and simulated a sex act. But Ms. Borel’s statement on the steps of the courthouse also pointed out the perversity of the cult of celebrity. When she complained to management, it was made clear: "The relentless message to me from my celebrity boss and the national institution we worked for were that his whims were more important than my humanity or my dignity." In other words, ratings at this publicly funded entity are more important than people: suck it up, princess.

The CBC, for its part, has taken responsibility, issuing a statement agreeing that what Ms. Borel experienced "should never have happened and we sincerely apologize for what has occurred." But there’s little reassurance that mandatory training programs for HR staff and an anti-bullying, anti-harassment helpline will beat out the need to be No. 1 in an intensely competitive media landscape.

Ms. Borel and the other CBC employees who complained about Mr. Ghomeshi now become another statistic about workplace sexual harassment. According to Canadian studies, 43 per cent of women surveyed said they have been sexually harassed at work; 12 per cent of men have also reported sexual harassment.

They can stand next to victims in the Canadian Armed Forces — another publicly funded entity — as statistics suggest one in 13 female members have been sexually assaulted. This same publicly funded institution has so far refused to create a fully independent agency to receive complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct and offer support to victims of assault and harassment — despite the fact this was one of the main recommendations coming from a study regarding sexual violence in the military.

The CBC victims can also stand next to the female students at universities — again publicly funded — who felt silenced by their institutions’ refusal to take their accusations seriously. The most recent case involved Brandon University, which forced a first-year student to sign a document to keep her quiet after she reported she had been sexually assaulted in residence.

If this truly is a new era in sexual politics in Canada, with a brand-new prime minister who is a self-avowed feminist, then what is his stance on publicly funded institutions that do little until it’s too late to make women’s work lives safer?

Recently, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission ordered A+ Financial to pay three of its employees an unprecedented $20,000 each for creating a sexualized and toxic workplace. Perhaps in the future, publicly funded organizations should also be penalized for allowing toxic and sexualized workplaces for being allowed to fester. Perhaps then, it will stop.

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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

History

Updated on Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 4:01 PM CDT: Removes code error.

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