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'Fifth Estate' questions CBC internal probe of Jian Ghomeshi allegations

Former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, centre, is escorted out of court after being released on bail in Toronto on Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
November 29, 2014 - 11:28 AM

TORONTO - A new episode of "The Fifth Estate" takes aim at the internal CBC probe of Jian Ghomeshi, with one "Q" employee saying his faith in the broadcaster has been shaken due to lingering questions about the investigation.

CBC's flagship newsmagazine, in a program airing Friday titled "The Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi," looks at how CBC management handled allegations of sexual violence against Ghomeshi when he was still host of the popular radio program "Q".

CBC management and its human resources department launched an investigation into Ghomeshi in July after a "Q" employee received an e-mail from a reporter asking about Ghomeshi's behaviour. The probe did not uncover any evidence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

A transcript of the episode hosted by Gillian Findlay reports that almost all known employees who worked for "Q" in the summer — 17 in total — say they were not approached or questioned by CBC management as part of the internal probe.

However, CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said "Q" employees were questioned as part of the "very thorough" investigation that also dug into Ghomeshi's employee file and cross-referenced his name against workplace complaints.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Thompson said "Q" employees had to be questioned in a "discreet" manner to avoid libelling Ghomeshi.

"It's important to note, and paramount to any HR investigation, we can't libel an employee in the process. We have to make every effort to protect their privacy, given the sensitivity of the subject matter."

Interviews were conducted either by CBC Radio Executive Director Chris Boyce, or by human resources head Todd Spencer or by Linda Groen, director of network talk radio. Management and program leaders were also questioned, he said.

"They had to be done in a discreet manner," he said. "It's not like they were held in a big boardroom with three people and a stenographer."

CBC has since hired employment lawyer Janice Rubin to conduct an independent investigation into management's handling of the allegations, among other things.

Ghomeshi was fired Oct. 26 after the CBC says it saw "graphic evidence" of physical injury to a woman. On Wednesday, he was charged with four counts of sex assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He was released on $100,000 bail.

His lawyer Marie Heinen has said he will plead not guilty and plans to make no further statements to media. She did not respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press on Friday.

Ghomeshi admitted in a lengthy Facebook post published on Oct. 26, the day he was dismissed by CBC, that he engaged in "rough sex,'' but insisted his encounters with women were consensual.

In the Fifth Estate episode, Boyce reflects on his decision not to go to the police after seeing the "graphic evidence."

"In hindsight — and this is a moment where I will be completely honest — if I could play that back in my head, there was a lot going on at that moment in time. I had just seen evidence that threw me for a loop. If I could do it again, would I go to the police?" he asks. "Maybe. I had no evidence of anything. I didn't have the evidence myself. It's a good question."

"The Fifth Estate" also reports that Ghomeshi was not given a chance to "walk away quietly," as he alleged in the Oct. 26 Facebook post, according to Boyce.

"That is untrue," says Boyce.

The episode charts Ghomeshi's rise to celebrity at CBC. As the host of "Q," the popular culture program he created, he was "often cold, mean to those he worked with, and insecure to the point of paranoia," Findlay says.

Brian Coulton, who began as an intern on "Q," says in the episode that Ghomeshi's treatment of his employees amounted to "emotional abuse."

The first director of "Q," Matt Tunnacliffe, says that office rumours persisted of Ghomeshi's alleged treatment of women.

Coulton tells "The Fifth Estate" that Ghomeshi told him earlier this year that he liked sex "rough" and that an ex-girlfriend was threatening to go public. Ghomeshi later showed him a Twitter account with the handle @bigearsteddy that was alleging punching and choking, Coulton says.

The "Q" employee says he carried the disclosures with "great emotional weight," sometimes having "mild panic attacks" on the street.

So when he received an e-mail from freelance reporter Jesse Brown detailing allegations of sexual violence against Ghomeshi, he showed it to fellow employee Sean Foley and they decided to bring it to management, he says.

During the Canada Day long weekend, they called an emergency meeting with Boyce and Spencer and presented them with the e-mail and the @bigearsteddy Twitter account, "The Fifth Estate" reports.

Coulton recalls in the episode that the managers appeared "surprised" at the time, but Boyce tells Findlay it was information he was already aware of.

Ghomeshi had approached him in the spring with details of the allegations and professed his innocence, Boyce says.

"He looked into my eyes, he said, you know, that he had done a lot of soul-searching, that he'd gone back in his head of every single relationship he'd ever been in… and he looked into my eyes, and he said I have never crossed any ethical or legal line," Boyce says.

During the emergency meeting in July, Boyce did zero in on a reference in Brown's e-mail to behaviour possibly crossing over into the workplace — and so the internal probe was launched.

Findlay questions Boyce as to why 17 "Q" employees say they were not approached by management.

"You understand that this suggests that there really was no investigation," she says. "That armed with all that information that you had on that weekend, about allegations of assault, about allegations coming from a series of women — choking, punching — that there really was no investigation."

Boyce replies: "And the majority of allegations that we were aware of involved Mr. Ghomeshi's personal life, they didn't cross over into the workplace."

Findlay also questions why CBC Vice-President of English Services Heather Conway said in a Nov. 7 interview on "The National" that she had never heard any allegations that Ghomeshi "punched women."

The @bigearsteddy Twitter account contained allegations of punching and choking. Asked whether he shared the tweets with Conway, Boyce said he didn't recall.

"My belief, at the time, was the tweets contained information that was wholly inaccurate. The story that I had been told for someone I had known for 10 years and that I, you know, clearly trusted when I shouldn't have," he said.

Thompson told The Canadian Press that Conway was informed of the review from the outset and kept abreast of the investigation as it went. But he declined to answer specific questions about who was told what and when out of concerns of "compromising" Rubin's independent investigation.

But the employees who brought the allegations to Boyce say they are not satisfied with the answers they've been given about the investigation.

Asked whether his faith in CBC has been shaken, Coulton says yes.

"I have a great amount of respect for the CBC," he says. "I can't help but have some level of diminished faith in the corporation until I know what the extent of their investigation was and how they acted when they acted."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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