TORONTO (Reuters) - The first witness in the sexual assault trial of former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi said on Monday he pulled her hair and punched her in the head, then called a taxi for her as she cried, kicking off a celebrity trial that has gripped Canada.
Ghomeshi, 48, a broadcasting personality and well-known musician, sat silently, leaning forward and swiveling his foot, as the first of three complainants scheduled to take the stand told an overflowing courtroom of his alleged abuse while the two were dating in 2002.
The former host of Q, an internationally syndicated Canadian Broadcasting Corporation music and arts program, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. If convicted of sexual assault, he faces a maximum jail sentence of 18 months, while a choking charge carries a potential life sentence.
The case has drawn parallels with that of Bill Cosby, a national figure in the United States who faces multiple accusations of sexual abuse over many years.
The long-awaited trial follows the public firing of Ghomeshi by the CBC in October 2014, his Facebook assertion that he enjoys rough but consensual sex, and a deluge of media coverage of his rise to fame, along with allegations of workplace harassment and of violent dating encounters with women.
The complainant, who cannot be named due to a court-imposed publication ban, said she’d met Ghomeshi when she was serving canapés at a CBC party. The first time she went to his house, they were kissing in the living room when he suddenly pulled her hair and punched her several times in the head.
“I was dizzy, disoriented, I felt like I had walked into a pole or hit my head on the pavement, it was that strong. And I thought I was going to pass out,” she testified.
The judge-only trial is expected to take about three weeks. He faces a separate trial for another count of sexual assault later this year.
Ghomeshi was fired after the CBC said it had seen graphic evidence that he had injured a woman in what Ghomeshi said on Facebook were consensual sex acts involving bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.
Toronto police charged him after several women came forward with sexual assault complaints that allegedly occurred over several years.
After the scandal broke, an independent investigation slammed the CBC for ignoring Ghomeshi’s behavior in the workplace because he boosted ratings.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Alan Crosby