#Ghomeshi: Live Tweeting and the Presumption of Innocence


The Jian Ghomeshi trial has started and is being live-tweeted - very ably I might add - by various journalists. Some are more impartial than others. BUT what does live-tweeting have to do with the presumption of innocence?


The presumption of innocence is one of the most inconvenient concepts of modern democracy.

It's the reason we have 10 day trials, costing untold amounts of tax-payer dollars. It's the reason we have legal aid. It's the reason judges are paid so much (judges set their own salaries so that they can be independent of government). Then there's the appeals. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. I can just see the dollar signs floating in the air.

Do you know what would be more convenient? Putting people in jail when we're were pretty damn sure they did the thing. We could use Twitter. All those who think Jian Ghomeshi is guilty tweet this:

We'll tally them all up and majority rules. No point going through this pesky trial.

Do you know what else is inconvenient? Democracy and the rule of law.

It would be so much easier if I was in charge. We could do away with the inconvenience of elections and all this fiddle faddle withe the senate. We'd be losing a lot of theatre, but we'd be gaining a matriarch. Think about it... our own royals.

I would be a benevolent dictator of a neoliberal, secular, totalitarian, autocratic, magocracy. I would do the right thing and make all my decisions based on the good of society as a whole.

I wouldn't even take a salary, people. Just feed me and I'll handle it all.

This seems ridiculous, and it is ridiculous. Getting rid of democracy because it's hard is ridiculous. Just like putting someone in jail when we're pretty sure they did the thing is ridiculous - BUT this is basically what you're asking for when you convict someone in the court of public opinion - which these days means Twitter.

I commend journalists like Sarah Boesveld (@sarahboesveld) for their efforts to be impartial - it's hard. The accounts of the first witness make it hard. The first witness says the accused pulled her hair and punched her in the head multiple times. She became emotional on the stand. Anybody with a shred of empathy was feeling something, anything, for what she says she went through. And then to be cross examined by a scary lawyer?

Seriously... look at this lady - her shoes cost more than my house.

Cross-examination is a frightening experience at the best of times, but I imagine being cross-examined by Marie Henein is a different struggle all together. (As a side note, I found Marie Henein's cross-examination today to be effective and surgical, by the account I read. This lawyer is doing her job)

Terrible. Even Ms. Boesveld failed to remain impartial:

Am I victim blaming by reminding everybody that Jian Ghomeshi is merely an accused person at this point?


Am I calling the first witness a liar because I say "her account" and use words like "she said" and "she claims"?


At this point in the proceedings (ie before the proceedings are over and verdict is rendered), Jian Ghomeshi is an accused. The accounts of the witnesses are claims, not truths. Calling them claims isn't the same as calling them lies. The statements made by the witnesses only become truths (for the purposes of Jian Ghomeshi's innocence or guilt) when the judge makes a ruling.

In this vein, I'm about to say something incredibly unpopular....

Jian Ghomeshi is innocent.

Maybe he won't be at the end of this trial, after all the evidence has been adduced and assessed, but right now, Jian Ghomeshi is innocent.

That's how the presumption of innocence works.

Jian Ghomeshi, just like any other person accused of a crime in any civilized nation, is presumed innocent.

I'm going to make a completely unqualified observation of what I've seen in my Twitter feed: the same people who were so incensed by the conviction of Steven Avery (Making a Murderer) are the same people who are crying out on Twitter for Ghomeshi blood. They're also the same people who rung their hands with frustration at the Canadian government's inaction on the issue of Omar Khadr's release and celebrated Omar's freedom.

Are we really so foolish that we don't see the connection?

Why did we binge watch Making a Murderer? Because we were angry? - of course we were, and we were smug about it too. "How could they do that to that innocent man? - OH! The injustice"... and in Canada we had the pleasure of saying, "Something like this would never happen  in Canada." Bullshit. Donald Marshall, Jr. - enough said.

The moral outrage we experienced at Steven Avery's conviction was a direct result of the complete disregard for the presumption of innocence shown by the Manitowoc County Police Department and the state prosecutor. The prosecutor and the police have a responsibility to make their case, which means they don't presume the accused is innocent (obviously), but the process they follow relies on the presumption of innocence. The prosecutor had the burden to prove Steven Avery was guilty - beyond any reasonable doubt.

Making a Murderer reacquainted us all with the visceral emotions caused by experiencing an injustice - we should all feel this emotion more often.

Where does this emotion come from and why is it so intense?

I'll answer that with another question: What if it was me?

Pause on that.

Pause on the enormity of R v. You.

Are the claims against Jian Ghomeshi valid? That's not for me to say - it's not for you to say. This isn't about us. It's about the law. It's about the credibility of the witnesses, the consistency of their evidence, and the strength of the Crown's case.

People on Twitter aren't judges. Good thing too, otherwise mob-justice would have already been dispensed. People on Twitter aren't required to presume Jian Ghomeshi, or anybody for that matter, innocent. However, Twitterers (or Tweeters or Twits... whatever) need to recall the importance of the presumption of innocence as a democratic principle. It goes like this:

You Might Also Like


  1. You cannot reasonably discuss this trial phase without considering the context. Such issues are covered by the legal experts in this program just shy of one-hour's worthwhile listening: Fixing a broken system: Sexual assault and the law: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/remembering-alistair-macleod-sexual-assault-and-the-law-in-praise-of-the-theremin-ww1-what-for-and-vimyism-1.2905282/fixing-a-broken-system-sexual-assault-and-the-law-1.2905285

  2. Good read. Thanks for your wisdom, Anna.


Popular Posts