Exactly one week ago, the popular host of the hit radio show Q, Jian Ghomeshi, went on indefinite leave. Many reasonably speculated that it was due to his dad’s passing. A few days later, however, his employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) dismissed Ghomeshi and cut all ties with him. What followed immediately after (Ghomeshi’s extremely revealing Facebook statement, the Toronto Star article, two women coming forward to talk of non-consensual sexual aggression) caught this entire country by surprise.
But perhaps not everyone.
Rumours have bee circulating for years that Ghomeshi was a creeper and that many who worked with him at the CBC knew and tolerated his behaviour. Perhaps the extent of his aggression was never known, and one can speculate that once details emerged and news spread that Jesse Brown’s expose was soon to be published, the CBC decided to immediately disassociate from Ghomeshi, less so for ethical reasons, than for fear of appearing complicit and doing nothing to protect its own employees.
In other words, while the Cash Cow was still producing milk, did they voluntarily turn a blind eye, only to cut ties when they had irrefutable evidence that the jig was up? It’s a fair question to ask, considering how many people knew and tolerated Ghomeshi’s behaviour. Ultimately, was the CBC irresponsible in their handling of their most prized — yet, probably most troubled — employee?
What follows is an exclusive first-person account by Elisabeth Faure, which HeadSpace is very pleased to publish. Faure is a Concordia journalism graduate, former CBC Montreal employee and Q intern.
Former Q Intern Questions CBC’s Lack of Action
By: Elisabeth Faure
“So, did Jian Ghomeshi try to sleep with you?”
This was the first question the then-Director of Current Affairs for CBC Radio in my hometown asked me the first day I got back from a 6-week unpaid internship at Q in Toronto. Her question, asked in front of a small group of co-workers in an open newsroom, elicited gales of laughter from all assembled. Because, you know, back then, it was funny what a reputation Jian (or JG, as he was known in Q circles) had for being a total sleazebag.
Let me be clear: Jian Ghomeshi never tried to sleep with me during the time I spent at Q – in fact, he barely acknowledged my existence, except for once asking me to use the Q Twitter account to congratulate him on being voted one of the sexiest men in Canada by Hello! Magazine. But that doesn’t mean I, like everyone else, hadn’t heard plenty of stories about his behaviour.
The stories were all the same – meeting women at CBC-related events, then creeping them on Facebook. Hitting on interns and junior staff at CBC. Grabby hands. His targets all fit a similar demographic, very young, starting out in “the industry” (be it journalism, modeling, music, etc.), and usually a fan of his show.
These women fit a great profile if you’re looking for a victim – their youth and low public profile making them both less assertive and more anonymous, easier for someone of Ghomeshi’s status and power to mistreat without raising too much attention. No question, JG had been a creep and a predator for years, and everyone knew it.
But I, like so many others, had no idea just how deep his sickness ran until his skeletons came tumbling out of the closet in a spectacular fashion this week, leading the CBC to drop him like a hot potato. Sexual harassment at work. Sexual assault. Beatings. The creepy fucking bear. Like the rest of the country, I was in shock as the revelations came out, fast and furious.
Now, Ghomeshi’s reputation lies in tatters, likely beyond repair, no matter how much he pays a PR firm and legal team. His posters have been ripped from the walls of the CBC, his image scrubbed clean from the CBC’s website. His high-powered PR reps have dropped him. The one-time Canadian Prince of Pop Culture is now possibly the most unpopular figure in the country. And I am pissed off.
Pissed off because I realize just how much the CBC did nothing – nothing – to rein in their star host. Pissed because so many women had to become his victims before his crimes were revealed. Pissed because at first his victims were not believed. Pissed because you know what? It’s not funny to ask a junior employee if a host tried to sleep with her, because the internship the network set me up with happened to be with a notorious womanizer and predator.
Knowing his reputation, the network should never have put me, or any other female employee, in that position.
By now, it is well-documented that women did indeed come forward to complain about JG’s unacceptable workplace behaviour, and that their claims were not only dismissed, they were victim-blamed by Q’s executive producer, Arif Noorani, who asked them what they could do to make their office less toxic.
CBC had a responsibility as an employer, and as a public broadcaster, no less, to take Ghomeshi’s behaviour seriously, and to sanction him. They had a duty to put their employee’s safety and right to a harassment-free workplace over the protection of a network star.
Instead, they willfully turned a blind eye until his behaviour was about to be made public. Then, they couldn’t get away from JG fast enough.
CBC has now joined the media pile-on against Ghomeshi, but for me, it’s too little, too late. The time to take action against Ghomeshi was when the rumours first started to circulate about his strange behaviour with women. When a female employee first came forward with allegations he harassed her at work.
Working on Q gave me a glimpse of Ghomeshi’s outsized ego, and how he ran the show with absolute control. He would regularly stroll into the studio only minutes before the show went to air, panicking the staff. When he decided to drop into story meetings, you could feel the nervous energy from the employees. The entire structure there was designed to pamper JG, to keep him happy, and feed his ego.
Once, when he was blathering on about a new video his protégé Lights was shooting, I innocently mentioned it sounded a lot like a video from another artist I had recently seen. “Don’t tell Jian!” whispered a staffer urgently.
Is it any wonder, then, that Ghomeshi felt he could get away with anything in such an environment? His network’s inaction, coupled with his victim’s fear of speaking out, led him to continue his crimes, possibly even against students. No doubt, Ghomeshi never thought the day would come when his abuse would be revealed – he may not have even realize that what he was doing was abuse.
At the end of the day, Ghomeshi and Ghomeshi alone is responsible for the vile crimes he committed against woman after woman after woman. But the MotherCorp was his enabler.