TORONTO (Reuters) - Disgraced Canadian radio personality Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty of sexual assault on Thursday when a judge ruled that none of his three accusers were credible, sparking debate over how the country's judicial system treats victims of sexual violence.
In a 25-page verdict, Judge William Horkins noted inconsistencies in the testimony of all three complainants, saying one had "played chicken with the justice system," while another was "manipulative" and a third "deceptive."
The high-profile case has drawn parallels with that of entertainer Bill Cosby, a national figure in the United States who faces multiple accusations of sexual abuse over many years. Cosby has long denied the allegations.
Ghomeshi, the 48-year-old former host of Q, an internationally syndicated music and arts program, had pleaded not guilty to all charges. He did not testify in the trial, but admitted in a 2014 Facebook post that he participated in rough, but consensual, sex. He faces another trial in June for a different count of sexual assault.
"The evidence of each complainant suffered not just from inconsistencies and questionable behavior, but was tainted by outright deception," Horkins said in his decision.
Two of the complainants cannot be named, while one, Canadian actress Lucy DeCoutere, waived her right to anonymity.
The three women testified that Ghomeshi, one of the top stars at public broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corp, hit them, pulled their hair, or choked them during intimacy in 2002 and 2003.
The complaints arose after the CBC fired Ghomeshi in 2014 for "consistently" breaching behavior standards. In response to being fired, Ghomeshi said in a Facebook post that he participates in "exciting" sex including dominance and submission, but only with the consent of his partner.
The two-week trial in February stirred up anger among feminists and victims' rights advocates, who said the three women were attacked on the witness stand and that the country's judicial system stigmatizes victims of sexual violence.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment specifically on the Ghomeshi ruling in an interview with CP24, but he added it may spark more discussion of the issue.
"I certainly think there will be a lot of discussions and a lot of thoughtful proposals as we move forward on how we demonstrate that violence against women in any type is unacceptable," Trudeau told the Toronto-based news channel.
Social media debate roared on hashtags #Ghomeshi and #ibelievesurvivors after the verdict was announced, while protesters gathered at the downtown Toronto courtroom chanting that they believed the women. One woman was arrested after she charged the front steps of the courthouse, topless, as the prosecutor spoke to media.
Prosecutor Michael Callaghan said his office would consider its options after studying the verdict.
Ghomeshi and his lawyer declined to comment and avoided the protesters by leaving through a back door at the court. His sister Jila Ghomeshi told reporters the family would try to heal after more than a year of "punishment" delivered before due process.
Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Alan Crosby