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Apology for workplace sexual harassment

I am sorry message

I am sorry message

It was recently reported in the media that after signing a peace bond, Jian Ghomeshi apologized in court on May 11, 2016, for his “sexually inappropriate conduct” towards a former co-worker who accused him of sexually assaulting her. Following the apology, the Crown withdrew the criminal charge of sexual assault for which Ghomeshi was slated to stand trial on June 6, 2016.

A peace bond is a Criminal Code provision commonly applied to settle domestic disputes or cases where there are no reasonable grounds to prove a criminal offence has occurred. Under Section 810 of the Criminal Code, a person can enter a peace bond or recognizance in which they agree to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a certain period of time, usually a year. If no further incidents occur during that period, the bond expires and the legal proceedings end.

The charge related to the June 6 trial involved a former CBC employee who alleged Ghomeshi had sexually assaulted her in 2008.

The justice of the peace hears evidence from both sides before requiring the peace bond be signed. The court heard,

[…] that while they were working late at the office one night in 2008 Ghomeshi approached Borel from behind as she leaned over her, “held her waist and pressed his pelvis back and forth repeatedly into her buttocks” while they were both fully clothed, according to the facts supporting the peace bond. The incident lasted several seconds.”

Ghomeshi had pleaded not guilty to that charge.

The apology given by Ghomeshi is not an admission of guilt; nonetheless he did admit that his actions towards his co-worker were thoughtless, sexually inappropriate, demeaning and an abuse of his power as a famous star. He said he now realizes he had failed to understand just how much his behaviour had hurt her.

The victim later held a press conference and indicated that there was more than one incident, and lashed out at her employer for not taking her written complaints seriously and not acting on them accordingly to protect her and prevent sexual harassment from continuing in the workplace. “When I went to the CBC for help, what I received was a directive that yes, he could do this, and yes, it was my job to let him,” the victim said to the press.

The unresolved workplace sexual harassment side of this case seems to be a much harder pill to swallow for the victim. The employer was never reprimanded for their lack of action in preventing sexual harassment and protecting their workers.

This said, those accused of crimes are often asked to apologize for the wrongs they allegedly committed or have been found to have committed. This apology sometimes has a bearing on sentencing (if found guilty after a trial) and a person’s freedom from further criminal consequences including public opinion.

The apology is supposed to acknowledge behaviour towards the victim and, show remorse for one’s wrong action, heal wounds, mend bridges and restore some form of justice.

But, is it enough penance when the crime is alleged but not proven in a court of law? When the perpetrator of the wrongful action does not really pay for his or her crime? How does the victim really know that the apology was sincere and true?

Is the apology enough for the parties involved to move forward?

The justice system requiring an apology in exchange for a peace bond seems to help alleviate an overburdened judicial system and help resolve a case that would be hard to prove based on the evidence that would have been submitted by the crown. But the only thing that seems to reassure me that the apology helped the victim in this case are her words. The victim stated that she accepted Ghomeshi’s apology as the “clearest path to the truth” because a trial would have allowed him to continue denying guilt.

Apologizing is often the first thing we are taught as children, so it is hard to say anything bad about forgiveness when it’s something we all subconsciously understand and accept as the norm. It is also admirable to witness a victim being able to forgive instead of hate his or her attacker or abuser. But, as many lawyers, legal experts, criminologists and academics have asked before me, are apologies a way of glossing over certain kinds of crimes? Do they serve the long-term interests of justice, or are they instead presenting another confusing inconsistency in the already complex world of criminal justice?

I wonder!

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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