TORONTO (Reuters) - A celebrity radio host at the heart of one of Canada’s biggest sex scandals was charged with sexual assault on Wednesday in a case that has grabbed headlines.
Jian Ghomeshi, 47, former host of the internationally syndicated music and arts program Q on Canadian Broadcasting Corp radio, appeared in court to answer four counts of sexual assault and one of choking.
His lawyer said Ghomeshi would plead not guilty to the charges.
Ghomeshi was fired in October after the CBC said it had seen graphic evidence that he had injured a woman in what he said were consensual acts of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism in sex. Ghomeshi said at the time that he voluntarily showed the material to counter a pending newspaper article about him.
He was released on bail of C$100,000 ($88,645) after a brief court appearance in which he spoke only twice, to affirm he understood the charges and conditions of bail. Ghomeshi was ordered to surrender his passport, live with his mother in the city’s north end and reappear in court on Jan. 8.
Surrounded by police, Ghomeshi inched through a crush of reporters outside the courthouse without speaking to anyone.
“Mr. Ghomeshi will be pleading not guilty. We will address these allegations fully, directly in a courtroom,” Marie Henein, his lawyer, told reporters. “It is not my practice to litigate my cases in the media. This one will be no different.”
The charges follow a month-long police investigation into allegations that Ghomeshi, a former folk-rock musician who is a household name in Canada, sexually assaulted women he was dating and assaulted or harassed several colleagues at the CBC.
The CBC has hired an external investigator to probe the allegations, including one by a former woman employee who said her complaints to the company about Ghomeshi’s behavior were not followed up.
Ghomeshi, who has interviewed a long roster of A-list celebrities from Woody Allen to Barbra Streisand and Paul McCartney in seven years at the helm of Q, took to Facebook after he was fired. In a lengthy post, he likened his sexual tastes to “a mild form of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,” referring to the erotic bestseller.
On Tuesday, Ghomeshi dropped a C$55 million lawsuit against his former employer for wrongful dismissal and agreed to pay their legal costs.
Employment law expert Howard Levitt said the Ghomeshi case has quickly changed how Canadian employers respond to such allegations, citing the November suspension of two members of parliament amid accusations of personal misconduct from two female colleagues.
“People are talking the way they haven’t talked before, and victims are going to be quicker to come forward, because already there is less of a tolerance at the top than there was three weeks ago,” Levitt said.
The Q show, now being hosted by other people, is carried on Public Radio International and has had a wide following on National Public Radio in the United States.
Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Tom Brown and Grant McCool