Hundreds showed support for sexual assault survivors.
They crowded the sidewalks, packed in front of the courthouse where the system, they say, let them down earlier in the day. They held signs in solidarity: “We believe survivors,” they read. Chants of “We believe you” and “The system isn’t broken—it was built this way,” echoed along Queen Street West.
This rally, just hours after a judge acquitted Jian Ghomeshi in his sexual assault trial, saw hundreds gathered at Old City Hall in support of survivors.
But these are not new messages. As Glen Canning notes, we’ve been having conversations about the injustices of sexual assault for more than 50 years.
Canning is the father of Rahteah Parsons, a Nova Scotia teenager who was sexually assaulted by four males at a home near Halifax in November 2011. Rehtaeh ended her life in April 2013, at 17, following months of cyber-abuse and victim blaming. Canning says he is grateful his daughter did not have to go through the criminal justice system, and endure “victim blaming” from within the courts.
Of the trial, he says: “The Ghomeshi trial was about three women being put on trial and not Ghomeshi. It was their characters that were attacked and not his, and that is the problem.”
The rally was organized by the Centre for Women and Trans People and the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education at Ryerson University in advance of the judge’s ruling, based not on the outcome of the trial but on the issues surrounding the trial itself.
The gathering attracted several notables, including Canning, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), and Ghomeshi complainant Lucy DeCoutere.
During the rally, Wong-Tam addressed the concerns that many in the crowd shared about the criminal justice system.
“More than anything this trial speaks to how difficult it is for women to speak up because they will be further victimized and their behaviour scrutinized,” she said. “The onus should not be on the victim.”
The issue of re-victimization was raised by many speakers, including DeCoutere.
Speaking very briefly, DeCoutere said she thought it would be bad form if she did not attend the rally and hoped that the conversation would continue.
“I did not know what to expect when I first started this more than a year ago but I am glad that I did and this is only the beginning,” she said.
DeCoutere also showed support for a new hashtag that explores the larger context of sexual assault cases: #BeyondGhomeshi.
The rally wrapped up and turned into a march as hundreds of protesters took to the streets and made their way to Toronto Police Headquarters. There, they were greeted by the Black Lives Matter group, who has been occupying the space outside for the past five days.
Although acquitted on March 24, Ghomeshi heads back to court in June for yet another sexual assault trial.