Living in Jerusalem

At the Mouth of Eight Witnesses, the Jian Ghomeshi Matter has been Established

Yesterday, writing about the Jian Ghomeshi fiasco, I was still wrestling with how to respond. Was this a matter where the idea of innocent until proven guilty applied? Was this a matter of maintaining a balanced perspective in the face of he-said, she-said accusations? Was it a matter of discovering where there burden of proof lay? Here’s where I settled yesterday, a mere 24 hours ago:

I will not pass judgement on Jian nor on the women who are accusing him. Without evidence or more substantial information, nobody should enter this unfortunate game of he-said, she-said.

Thinking that this was an issue demanding a fair and non-judgemental response until more information arrived, I tried to strike an ever-so Canadian tone: “I will not pass judgement…

I also wondered what the Jewish response to a situation like this should be. How does my tradition teach us to respond when we want to honour the rights of all people to be treated fairly in the face of serious accusations? How do we respond when all we have to base our judgement on are the words of others?

There is a Jewish paradigm for what is taking place now in the streets of Canada and the tubes of the internet – a biblical perspective on a contemporary Canadian situation involving an Iranian. Fancy that. Here’s what the Torah says about such accusations:

One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be establishment. (D’varim 19:15)

The Torah is concerned with ensuring that people do not level false accusations against another in order to spite them. Jewish law requires multiple witnesses to ensure fairness in judgement. To be sure, Jian Ghomeshi himself originally hinted at such a motive – that this was just a matter of a woman with a grudge to bear falsely accusing him.

But that was when there was one witness. Now there are eight.

Given the preponderance of evidence emerging against Jian Ghomeshi (you must read the Toronto Star’s full expose), it is now outright impossible to maintain a balanced perspective. The scales of justice have tipped against Jian. At the mouth of eight witnesses, this matter has been established.

And this is still hard for some to believe. We want to believe that something like this didn’t happen. Our brains literally have a hard time coming around to this truth. In this matter, I’ve been guided by the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who teaches us:

“Truth is not something we discover at one time. That is how things are for God, but not for us. For Judaism, truth – as understood and internalized by humanity – is a developmental process.” To Heal a Fractured World p. 156

This may be true on a very meta-level. I think we can be forgiven for not being able to perceive the entire truth of this affair all at once. To be sure, we are still discovering new truths about this matter.

But eight women should not have had to wait painfully in the dark for years for this matter to have been brought to light. These horrible truths should not have taken twelve years to distill so a quest for justice could emerge. Of course, it is a matter that should not have even taken place in the first place!

This sad, sad affair only illustrates that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows for horrific crimes to be committed, and then remain hidden in the dark, unpunished. Yes, we should maintain a commitment to innocent until proven guilty, but we cannot be blinded from seeing indicators of guilt. We should be balanced and fair in our judgement, but we cannot malign or question the motivation of those leveling accusations only on the grounds that “Jian is a trustworthy figure.”

Unknowingly, I myself have been a  part of this system. I want to thank friends for challenging me and pushing me to reevaluate my perspective on this tragic story. I wonder – is the Court of Public Opinion strong enough to not only level justice in this affair, but to change a flawed system itself, to create a more just and righteous world?

Surely, Canada is better than this. Surely, Canadians are better than this.

Living in Jerusalem

It’s about us: the CBC & Jian Ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi
Image © CBC

One of the reasons, I think, that the imbroglio with Jian Ghomeshi is simultaneously so captivating and so shocking is that it involves the CBC. Somehow, this beloved and yet not-so beloved institution has become a synecdoche for our Canadian-ness. The CBC is was Hockey Night in Canada. The CBC is Peter Mansbridge. The CBC is Rick Mercer. the CBC is the Royal Canadian Air Farce. The CBC is balanced and (mostly) unsensationalized news reporting. The CBC is Fred Penner. The CBC is CanCon. The CBC is the antithesis of American-style media.

The CBC is not just a media behemoth. It is more than television studios and radio stations. It is a cultural institution that represents Canada’s values and aspirations. In a country infamous for it’s dearth of national identity, the CBC is one of the things with which we identify. It is a part of us. So when a trusted public CBC figure is accused of acting in a way that betrays these values and aspirations, it’s difficult to divorce the person from the institution and its values, and it’s hard to not feel a sense of personal attachment.

Consider: would we be reacting the same way to the allegations against Ghomeshi if he wasn’t a CBC figure? If he worked for, say, Sun Media, would we be so perplexed? The values we ascribe to the institution conflate with the being, and we’re left quite puzzled, thinking, “This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t add up.”

On Sunday night, when Jian posted his now infamous revelation to Facebook, I – like many – was shocked. “This can’t be!” I thought. “Shame on the CBC,” I thought. In the dim light of a Brooklyn pub, I read and reread Jian’s words. I – like many – shared Jian’s status on my own Facebook wall, taking my own snide jab at the CBC: “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Jian Ghomeshi is a national treasure and this is a shocking and abysmal act on the part of the CBC.

My own first inclination – like that of many others – was to implicitly assume that the allegations could not be true. And not because they don’t deserve to be vigourously investigated (they do), but because somehow an attack on Jian is an attack on something Canadian itself, and such an attack spurs an immediate, gut reaction to defend our values. Consider my own words: “Jian Ghomeshi is a national treasure.” As if being a national treasure is a logical and appropriate defence against allegations of sexual abuse.

And then on Monday came the Toronto Star’s release of the details behind the story.

I went back to Jian’s words. I read the thoughts of others. I was chastised on Facebook for my gut reaction. Mea culpa. I did more thinking, expanded my thoughts. What had once appeared to be an issue of wrongful dismissal was in fact a larger issue of trust, sexual consent, abuse of power, and on whom the burden of proof lays.

Many people (including myself) are struggling with finding the most appropriate way respond to such an event, when the person involved was renowned in many ways for his sensitivity and humanity, and cultivated those values at the institution for which he worked. Just open the pages of any Canadian daily today, and you will witness how much of a lightning rod this story has become.

The doors of the Court of Public Opinion have been swung wide open. This private affair is now public, and for the members of the public who are drawn into it, there’s an understandable desire for justice. But who is deserving of justice is a matter for others to investigate and to decide. I am troubled by those who rush to assume that Ghomeshi is guilty when their is still no official evidence or case against him, just as much as I am concerned by those who assume that four women would individually concoct these allegations. I will not pass judgement on Jian nor on the women who are accusing him. Without evidence or more substantial information, nobody should enter this unfortunate game of he-said, she-said.

I’m with Margaret Wente on this one: “What a shabby, crummy story. No one wins. Everybody loses. I’m sorry for them all, and for us.”

Canada, Ideas, Life

Canadians worth Name-dropping

“With few extraordinary Canadians doing anything to shift our national consciousness, and fewer Canadians paying attention to those who are, our identity is in danger of atrophy.”

Donald Sutherland name-dropped Tommy Douglas in an interview in (the American magazine) Esquire this month. There’s also a new biography out on him in Penguin Canada’s stellar series on Extraordinary Canadians. And he popped up in the news a few weeks ago when it was revealed that the RCMP had spied on him at one point.

All of this is to say that Tommy Douglas is still a noteworthy and newsworthy Canadian twenty-five years after his death.

But he’s more than that. Douglas is a significant Canadian not just because there are still news items on him or interesting things to say about him. There are plenty of Canadians in the news each day that may be interesting. Douglas is uniquely significant because he changed Canada and he changed Canadians. He influenced mainstream Canadian society. He changed the Canadian government, he changed Canadian domestic policy, he changed Canadian culture, and – most significantly – he changed Canadian identity. To be sure, he fomented what is likely the number two item on the list of inextricable Canadian identifiers (after hockey, of course).

Douglas looked at the Canada that surrounded him – an impoverished, desperate milieu – identified the problems, came up with a solution, and enacted broad-sweeping changes. He’s what Seth Godin would call an initiator. He kicked Canada in the ass and we now wear the bruise with pride.

All of this is not to say that Tommy Douglas was a saint. To be sure, the Canadian healthcare system has its flaws and is in dire need of updating. Moreover, this is not my meager attempt to say profound things about Douglas that have already been said by people more eloquent and learned than I. While I’d like to convince myself otherwise, I don’t think I have anything to add to the Canadian canon at this point.

So this is all to say – or rather, ask – something else:

Where are all the Extraordinary Canadians? Where are the initiators? Where are the identity makers?

The Canadian (yet once-illegal in Canada) zero-emission Zenn Car
There are certainly many Canadians out there doing newsworthy, cool, and interesting things (although if you Google “Interesting Canadians,” the results come up pretty slim). But newsworthy, cool, and interesting is not equaling extraordinary these days. Newsworthy, cool, and interesting is not cultivating identity.

“Whither Canadian Identity?” is that quintessential existential question that we Canadians ask to hold a mirror up to our national self when our national inferiority complex flares up. But I’m not lamenting a lack of Canadian identity. I’ll leave that to George Grant. Besides, there’s a Wikipedia article on Canadian Identity, so I think we’re safe in that department.

I’m lamenting the lack of Canadians of late who have risen up and done something that has galvanized our country in the identity department. I’m lamenting the dearth of Canadians who have on a national scale shifted the way we think. I’m lamenting the absence of Canadians who can be added to the Wikipedia article on our national identity.

To be sure, just take a look at the Canadians who have been deemed extraordinary and fit for publishing by Penguin, or the finalists from the CBC’s 2004 series, The Greatest Canadian. On both lists, with a few exceptions (or perhaps just one – Terry Fox), the identity-building Canadians did the body of their work most recently thirty to forty years ago. For most, it’s been over half a century.

Yes, Sidney Crosby did do that thing in Vancouver last year, and The Great One and Don Cherry were indeed finalists on The Greatest Canadian. But hockey already occupies the number one spot on our identity list. Unlike Mr. Douglas, the trail was already blazed for Sid the Kid (insert some clever remark about the zamboni clearing the ice for him). Unlike Fox, Gretsky and Cherry had and have institutions, managers, and paychecks supporting them.

It’s been quite some time since Trudeau, Montgomery, The Group of Seven, McLuhan, Pearson, and the lot.

It’s been quite some time since a Canadian has risen up and done or said or created something that has inspired Canadians in a unifying way; in a way that has become as much a part of Canadian Identity as Hockey, Universal Health Care, Tim Hortons, the GST, a National Inferiority Complex, and not being American.

To be sure, there’s a certain temporal perspective gained from looking back on ourself, which contributes to the lists’ foci on historical figures. But it’s 2011, and we’ve been hyper-connected and hyper-self-aware for awhile now. Isn’t it time we started catching up to ourself? If that Rebecca Black girl can reach millions of people with a ridiculous YouTube video (I won’t do it the justice of linking to it), and we identify en masse with new memes every week, certainly the market is primed and ripe for someone to do something worthy of capturing us.

I’m not denying that Canadian identity exists. Certainly it does. But it isn’t being flexed by anyone. With few extraordinary Canadians doing anything to shift our national consciousness, and fewer paying attention to those who are, our identity is in danger of atrophy.

In that painfully Canadian way, I’m aware that all this has the potential to come across as complaining and whining about a problem without presenting a solution. After all, Tommy Douglas didn’t sit around and blog, he got off his own ass and kicked Canada in our collective tuchus. But I don’t (yet) have the bully pulpit of our Parliament or the platform of a national newspaper, so maybe this is just to vent or call attention in a limited way to something that I – as a Canadian – am invested in.

I’m looking for Canadians who can make us shift the way we look at ourselves for the better. I’m looking for Canadians who have the drive and power to give our country a much needed kick in the ass.

I’m looking for Canadians worth name dropping.