It will be three years next Thurday since Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC. Though proven innocent in a controversial trial, Ghomeshi’s case had a similar impact on Canadian culture as Harvey Weinstein’s case is now. It awoke a sea of disclosures from people across the country about assault experiences they had lived through. It brought to light the way so many of these assaults had been normalized or silenced.
I’d planned to release this song today, months before the Harvey Weinstein story ripped through the news. And here we are, dealing with yet another public case of normalized sexual assault. Survivors are speaking up, voicing anger, solidarity, and calling the world to action. But I believe many survivors are quietly sitting back, trying to reconcile these very public cases with their own painful lived experiences.
I took the day off work when Jian Ghomeshi’s verdict came out. I knew I’d be a mess whatever the outcome, because a happy ending to this trial seemed impossible. The courts had proven themselves unwilling to comprehend the sheer messiness of how sexual assault usually emerges – which is so often in the midst of complex, caring relationships.
The results of Ghomeshi’s trial validated something that many survivors needed to hear: that it’s the most normal thing for an abuse survivor to reach out to their abuser. It validated this truth in a painful, confusing way, because it was these very natural reactions that invalidated the complainants’ testimonies. Like many Canadians, I believed the women who came out against Ghomeshi. The case reminded me, often excruciatingly, of my own lived experiences. And yet, I’d felt unable to hate him, unable to wish him ill. His not-guilty verdict was, for me, a guilty relief.
It almost seemed too easy to write Ghomeshi off as a monster. Throughout the trial, I yearned for a restorative circle justice approach, as practiced by many indigenous communities, rather than the horrendous and triggering process of a legal trial. In this restorative approach to justice, the community circles around the person who has transgressed, and doesn’t leave their side until they figure out, as a community, what went wrong.
I wonder if this approach would actually provide some semblance of healing for many survivors. I realize not all survivors will agree with me on this, and that every case has its own story. But when we’ve lived through abuse within complex relationships, we know first-hand that our abusers aren’t always mere monsters. They are human beings we know and often still care about, and their actions are shaped by the world we all live in.
Sexual violence is a systemic issue. In the wake of the #metoo hashtag, we know too well how much our culture perpetuates cycles of abuse; we are reminded of the gaslighting by abusers in positions in power; we are reminded of the silent enabling of people who “knew” but did nothing. We are reminded of the near impossibility for survivors to report crimes safely and with dignity.
If sexual violence happens all the time, we cannot simply write all perpetrators off as monsters. These people are among us. They are often people we love and trust. Perhaps that was what was so painful for Canadians to make sense of during the Ghomeshi trial.
I’ve never met Jian Ghomeshi, and he’s never been convicted of a crime. I wish him well. It’s the stories his alleged victims told, the humiliation they endured by speaking out, and the overwhelming compassion I felt for him throughout the trial while still believing in his guilt, that has dredged up my own turmoil and distress, and strangely, become a source of healing and forgiveness.
This is the first single off my upcoming album, “I’d Rather Be Your Friend,” which I’ve been recording all year thanks to a grant from the Waterloo Arts Fund. It’s not an easy song to start with, but it’s also not been an easy year for digesting news of the world. It’s my hope that this album, and this song, can hold space for difficult conversations and offer reflection on how we live, and don’t live, in community with one another. Many thanks to all the musicians who played on this song: Robert Shiels, Gerima Harvey, and Ryan Coulter, to Chris Colvin for engineering, and to Evan Pointner and Steph Rozek for production assistance. This video was shot over a year ago, on a lovely evening stroll with Julia Gogoleva in St Jacobs, ON.
If it strikes a chord, please share this song in the places you reach people best! And make sure to sign up for my newsletter to hear the album when it drops!
Dear Mister Ghomeshi, I have something to say
It would have broken my heart if they’d sent you off to jail
And I know this is messy, but I’d have rather been your friend
Who would not leave your side while you cried out your sins
Some tried to condemn you, read you the letter of the law
And those who gripped to the system, they hid from its flaws
But Mr Ghomeshi, what prison did they dream
could make something so messy become suddenly so clean?
Oh, Mr Ghomeshi, I’m still trying to find my way
Cuz I’m just one of the many, a survivor’s what we say
Yes Mr Ghomeshi, I know a thing or two
About when shit gets messy with people like you
But what kind of prison could heal such a system?
What kind of prison could solace the victim?
Oh I know this is messy, but I’d have rather stayed by your side
And not let you go til you apologized.
Well Mr Ghomeshi, here we stand
You in the corner, me reaching out my hand
Don’t run away dear, don’t turn your back on me
Or else some kind of prison will reach you eventually
I know this is messy, But stay with me Mr Ghomeshi
I won’t leave your side – you can cry and say sorry