On May 11, 2016 the Jian Ghomeshi scandal was brought to what is for many a disappointing end. On that day it was announced that Ghomeshi agreed to sign a peace bond provided the Crown withdrew any further sexual assault charges. On the surface it looks like Jian Ghomeshi has gotten a free pass for assaulting and harassing so many women, but when you look at peace bonds in greater detail it’s clear the former radio host has hardly gotten a slap on the wrist.
Peace bonds are covered in section 810 of the Canadian Criminal Code. The loose definition of peace bonds is that they’re a formal commitment by a defendant to keep the peace. It’s one of the more common results of plea bargaining between defense attorneys and the prosecution.
In order for a defendant to be made to sign a peace bond, a justice of the peace or court has to be convinced that the victim(s) in a criminal case have reasonable grounds to fear that she, her spouse or common law partner or her children will come to harm without one. The peace bond is also granted if there’s a risk that the defendant could damage victim’s property or if the defendant is at risk of violating Canada’s revenge porn laws.
A peace bond is not a criminal conviction. It does not result in a criminal record or jail time. However, like a prison sentence, peace bonds have a set duration, the maximum being twelve months.
Peace bonds almost always come with conditions decided on by the court and prosecution. These conditions can include making a defendant abstain from drugs and alcohol with the exception of prescriptions. The bond can stipulate that the defendant provide samples of bodily substances for testing like blood or urine either at regular intervals or upon request from a probation officer.
The court can also ban the defendant from possessing any weapons, ammunition or explosives and any licenses or permits to have them. If the court bans the defendant from possessing said weapons, it has to specify in the peace bond the conditions in which they will be surrendered to the authorities and how they’ll be stored or disposed of.
In addition to rules regarding drugs and weapons, peace bonds often include specific conditions made to protect the victim, her spouse or her children. The stipulations are similar to a restraining order and can include forbidding the defendant from directly or indirectly communicating with her or her family and prohibiting him from being at any place where the victim or her family is regularly found.
Since peace bonds generally come with many conditions, the reasons for a peace bond without conditions have to be included in the court’s records.
The duration of Jian Ghomeshi’s peace bond is the maximum twelve months prescribed by law.
Following his signing of the bond, Jian Ghomeshi issued an apology but it was hardly the one Canadian women were looking for. Instead of apologizing to all the women he assaulted and abused, he directed his apology only at Kathryn Borel whom he physically, sexually and verbally abused during the time she worked for him. His apology included one particularly troubling statement in which he said:
“I now recognize that I crossed boundaries inappropriately.”
It’s Ghomeshi’s use of the word “now” that’s problematic. By saying he has only now realized that his behavior was inappropriate he’s implying that he didn’t know at the time that punching, choking, sexually harassing, assaulting, and abusing women was illegal or wrong.
His claim violates one of the most fundamental notions of law: nul n’est censé ignorer la loi aka ignorance is not an excuse. Neither Ghomeshi nor anyone else deserves a free pass for heinous crimes simply because they didn’t know they were crimes. As a media figure Ghomeshi’s claim that he didn’t know his actions were illegal or wrong is particularly doubtful for he would certainly have been apprised of all the news stories of men convicted and jailed for sexual assault and sued for sexual harassment.
It’s more likely that the real reason Ghomeshi is apologizing now is because he got caught.
Though Ghomeshi is currently not going to jail, we can take comfort in the fact that his chances of salvaging his reputation and career are slim to nil and we owe it all to Kathryn Borel. Kathryn Borel worked for Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC and during that time was regularly abused, sexually assaulted and harassed by him. When she went to her employers for help, they sided with Ghomeshi and said it was her job to endure the abuse.
Following the signing of the peace bond Borel turned a public outrage into a glorious vindication. On May 11, 2016 she boldly told the press:
Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of having done the things that I’ve outlined today. So when it was presented to me that the defense would be offering us an apology, I was prepared to forego the trial. It seemed like the clearest path to the truth. A trial would have maintained his lie, the lie that he was not guilty and it would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I am currently trying to stop.
Since Ghomeshi’s sexual assaults have come to light, twenty more women have come forward with allegations of his violent, rapey tendencies. Though Ghomeshi has lied, denied guilt, and done a lot of victim blaming it’s clear he’s guilty and a repeat offender.
That means that even though he’s out on the street now, the chance that he’ll be able to obey the terms of his peace bond is pathetic at best, and disobeying the terms of a peace bond can result in jail time. Though most agree that Ghomeshi should be locked up, Canadian women everywhere can take comfort in the fact that though he’s out now, he won’t be for long.