Is There Any Accountability for Canadian Columnists? A response to Christie Blatchord's astonishing column about a sex assault survivor

April 10, 2017

On March 15, 2017, the National Post published an opinion piece titled “Mandi Gray’s Astonishing Remark at Sex Assault Appeal Hearing: It’s Not Worth It” by Christie Blatchford. Blatchford’s commentary solidifies why sexual assault is often unreported, especially if the perpetrator is in a position of power.

 

Her commentary solidifies the distrust between those women who experience sexual assault and the media, despite the hard work that many journalists in this country have done to gain women’s trust and confidence. Blatchford’s opinions should be relegated to tabloids rather than a national newspaper.

 

In her piece, Blatchford wonders why I would refuse my participation in a second trial and my inability to endure what she calls a ‘normal cross examination’. Let me remind you. There is nothing normal about a cross-examination in a rape trial.

 

Any expectation of privacy that I anticipated was non-existent.

 

For days over a course of numerous months, I was asked questions about my sexual preferences and private conversations with my therapist despite both the sexual history and third party records applications being denied by the Judge.

 

My phone number was read out loud in open court.

 

I was accused of fabricating the rape to further my career and larger feminist political agenda.

 

Closing arguments rested on discriminatory assumptions that I should have reported immediately, that if I were actually raped I would have escaped once the violence escalated, that I drank alcohol and am therefore less credible, and that there was a lack of confirmatory injuries.

 

Lisa Bristow, the defense for the accused, argued that my actions were consistent with consensual sex. One example was when during cross-examination she asked, “Were your feet dangling over the edge of the bed?” and I responded “no”. She then asserted that the placement of my feet was consistent with consensual sexual activity.

 

I wonder whether Christie Blatchford has had the courage to report sexual violence against her, and whether she would be willing to have exposed, for all Canadians in open court and in the national media, her own intimate life, her sexual fantasies, her frailties, her predilections, her petty dishonesties. She is in no position to judge.

 

Blatchford suggests that since I am robust enough to occasionally provide media commentary that somehow my refusal to go further with a retrial is inexplicable – an attempt to undermine my credibility as a “real” victim.

 

She speculates as to what will happen if I refuse to testify, and she is correct – the Crown may decide to subpoena me to force me to the witness stand. I would rather be arrested in contempt of the court than legitimate the legal system as an institution capable of responding to sexual violence.

 

Blatchford also attempts to smear Joanna Birenbaum, my lawyer and the lawyer for the main complainant (publicly referred to as M.C.) in the Steven Galloway case at the University of British Columbia, for her failure to answer Blatchford’s disingenuous email asking why M.C. remains anonymous. Blatchford suggests that Birenbaum is part of a “small, old world of sexual assault survivors”, as if women who have been raped are a minority—as if we are obsolete. 

 

Blatchford’s latest piece “Again, a man’s life left in ruins, while his sexual-assault accuser goes about hers” confirms that Blatchford has no concept of what it means for a sexual-assault accuser “to go on about her life” – to be forced out of her community, home, education, and/or workplace. To live constantly threatened by the possibility that her identity and the details of the sexual assault will be made available for public consumption and deliberation.

 

Blatchford appears confused as to why other journalists have not published the name of M.C.

 

Whether Blatchford or the National Post intend of revealing the identity of M.C. is irrelevant. There are very real consequences of being a publicly known victim of a sexual assault, especially if the perpetrator is in a position of power.

 

Further, to exacerbate the threat posted by unaccountable opinion writers, Blatchford relies upon rumour in her writing as demonstrated by her reporting of M.C.’s attendance at the appeal court date. This is factually incorrect. 

 

Is it even possible for citizens to hold columnists and news outlets accountable for such conduct?

 

Initially, I contacted the National Post to publish this piece in response to the column and asked the editor to retract the statement about M.C.’s attendance at court since it is incorrect and highly problematic.

 

The editor of the National Post was interested in publishing the piece but asked for my permission to remove the section about M.C.’s attendance at court because the editor argued that this was not based on rumour, but rather that Blatchford talked to someone who confirmed M.C. was in attendance at the appeal.

 

The National Post is complicit and fuelling a coordinated attack on survivors of sexual assault. These articles reiterate that if you are sexually assaulted -- you do not deserve privacy.  They send a strong message that the media are able to locate you and expose you, even in the face of factual inaccuracies. Yet there is little in the way of safe avenues to hold media to account. It sends a clear message that those who report their victimization to universities or police must bear their identity and all of the intimate details to appease the Canadian public.

 

 

 

 

 

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