Over the last couple of months, the Canadian public has been exposed to the very public trials and travails of two prominent Canadians who faced prosecution in the courts on criminal charges. One, Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian musician, writer, and former CBC radio broadcaster. From 1990 to 2000, he was a member of the Thornhill-based folk-pop band Moxy Früvous. He recently was acquitted of charges of sexual assault. Mike Duffy, the former Conservative Senator, who for three years endured being pilloried in public by former Prime Minister Harper’s PMO, and was one of the made characters in the “Senate Scandal”, and was cleared of all 31 charges levelled against him and was fully exonerated in court.
Both men were for all intents and purposes “judged as guilty” by the public. As Justice Vaillancourt noted in his judgment on the Duffy case, who commented that he was approached in public by a citizen asking about whether he was involved with the Duffy trial. The judge acknowledge that he was the judge on the case. The citizen replied, “Send him to jail!” The Justice remarked that the Canadian public has a skewed understanding of Canadian law, and has forgotten that there is a presumption of innocence until the Crown (prosecution) can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged has actually committed the crime. In both these cases the public through the media and social media, had already made a guilty verdict, even though the trials had not been completed and no verdict had yet been found guilty as charged. In the highly charged and emotional trial of Ghomeshi, there were even public outcries that the laws of the land had to be changed because he got off and was not found guilty. In both cases, the public at large had determined guilt and the public was just waiting for the respective judges to confirm their own conclusion, in which these men were guilty of the alleged crimes they had committed. This attitude of the public, has reduced the legal due process of law to a spectacle. Add to that in these two particular cases, the notoriety of the personalities facing possible conviction, and it makes it all the more telling.
The ego loves to manifest in our lives, and if we let it, it will crush us and destroy us eventually.
The Ghomeshi case…
In the Ghomeshi case, Mr. Ghomeshi’s personality was on the public stage for all to see. He was a national radio personality on the CBC Broadcasting Network. He was a well known musician. He was well known as a celebrity. His face was in the public eye. He was brash, overtly confident and often arrogant in his discourses on his radio broadcast. He had a lot of chutzpa and bravado. He appeared for to be the prototypical successful alpha male. It was easy to see the ego on display in his programs and his public appearances. Behind all those appearances lurked a very proud and successful ego. Then these charges from three separate women came about and the ego took a beating. The ego was humiliated in public by the revelations given by the women that had alleged their assaults.
The public became horrified that such a thing had happened. The trial was riveting and Mr. Ghomeshi’s legal counsel, herself a woman, took the law and wielded it skillfully and got Ghomeshi the verdict he desperately needed. During his whole trial, and during all the goings on and the reporters trying to get Ghomeshi to comment, not once did he yield. He was silent the whole time and did not engage with the media. In court he was quiet and let his advocate do the work of defending him. The ego was slain. Fame had given way to infamy. Ghomeshi’s freedom lay on the balance. It was his ego that could have betrayed him, but neither he, nor his counsel, allowed that to happen. It was better to be humiliated, truly humbled in public, and have all the “dirty laundry” out for all to see, and to bite your tongue, and just go with the trial and pray and hope for an acquittal.
The Duffy case…
In the case of Mr. Duffy, as both his counsel and the justice recalled in the final day of the verdict, Mr. Duffy had been a pretty successful national reporter for the CBC Broadcasting Network, and was a confident and successful man. Duffy was used to the limelight, and as some reporters pointed out, “There was never a microphone that Mike Duffy did not like!” Duffy had been a popular and successful news media political pundit. He had a larger than life ego to go along with that. He always said he had to work really hard to get to where he wanted to be, and by his record, that work was rewarded. The ego catapulted him to success as he exuded confidence and assurance and a job well done. He brought the same passion, the same ego, and the same drive for success to being a senator when the then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, appointed him to the Red Chamber.
According to the defense counsel, Mr. Duffy brought the same zest and gusto to being a senator as he had to being a political pundit for the CBC. He got the job done and he was good at it. He used all his charm, wit and the gift of storytelling to raise funds for the Conservative Party of Canada, and to make speeches that highlighted the agenda of the government. He represented his province of PEI with the same passion as he had other important issues in his life. His ego egged him on to do the best job possible. Duffy lived by the motto that he would do the best job possible, no matter what that job was.
The “Red Chamber”, the Senate, has for years been a tool of whichever party is in power, whose members joined the Senate at the behest of the Prime Minister in power at the time. They are an unelected body, they are largely unaccountable to anyone. They monitor their own members, and at the time of Duffy becoming a senator, accountability was largely a personal matter. There were none to few established guidelines to go by. All of a sudden there was “out of control” spending by senators, and the PMO of Stephen Harper investigated senators who they thought were breaking the rules.
The long and the short of it, in the case of Duffy, he was investigated by the RCMP, and was kicked out of the Tory Caucus. He lost his wages. He faced a public downfall and disgrace and the humiliation of a public trial on 31 various charges. The trial came at a time when the Conservative Party of Canada was declining in public support and an ominous election was coming in the fall of 2015. Mr. Duffy’s trial lasted during the middle and end of last year, up to this past week, when the justice who judged his trial, Justice Vaillancourt, dismissed all 31 charges, and scorched the PMO’s office and the vindictive approach they took in scapegoating Mr. Duffy.
Through it all, Duffy’s ego was assailed, bruised and battered, and for “Mike who loves a mic”, when given opportunities to speak, Mr. Duffy remained silent. Mr. Duffy was humiliated through this ordeal, but he was not broken. He maintained his dignity and self-control. His ego was in check. He was humbled. Lesser men could have been destroyed by their own egos and the desire for the limelight and public affirmation.
The loss of ego and the indignity of a public trial
Both Mr. Ghomeshi and Mr. Duffy suffered great loss through their respective trials. First the indignity of a charge for alleged crimes, broadcasted on all the Canadian networks, spread throughout the Internet on international news wires, coast to coast articles and editorials in the nations papers. There is nowhere in Canada the last year, where people who even get but a smidgen of news has not heard of both Mr. Ghomeshi and Mr. Duffy and their respective legal conflicts. Egos are larger than life, and when your life, even as a public personality spirals out of the web of your control, and spins out story and after story about your life and the lives of those within your circle, the ego can quite literally be crushed by the weight of public scrutiny. Even these “media savvy” men, I am sure, craved for some privacy in the milieu of these very public displays and even more public prosecutions.
The public trial changed their lives forever
When we say, that their “lives changed forever”, it is quite telling. Both of these men had their reputations tarnished, suffered loss of income, and one lost his career in broadcasting, likely never to see or hear Mr. Ghomeshi on the public air waves again. With today’s technology, he may be able to revive his career through online podcasting. That may be his only opportunity to rebuild his professional career and reputation. As far as Mr. Duffy is concerned, his verdict all but assured he can return to the “Red Chamber” and be fully reinstated as a sitting senator, and he is likely to get back all lost salary as well. But in both of these cases, these men’s lives have quite literally had their lives changed forever and ever, amen!
Problems with legal justice and personal ego
The problem with the Canadian legal system, and really, all legal systems that embrace “innocence until proven guilty”, is that no matter which side of the equation you are one, be it a victim of a crime, or the alleged perpetrator of a crime, your life is changed forever. Your reputation will take a beating, your character will be assailed and you will be judged, first in the court of public opinion, and then in the actual courts of this land, either by a jury of your peers, or before a judge that is appointed to rule on your case.
In both of these cases, the respective cases had judges that ruled on each case. In both cases there was huge publicity in the media, and the court rooms were packed with media and all kinds of interested parties. In both cases witnesses came out to reveal information that would compel a conviction. In both cases the defensive counsels artfully and forcefully repelled each and every allegation, and in the same manner undermined the credibility of the witnesses and their respective agendas. In both cases, the Canadian justice system was testes, but the system operated flawlessly to get the proper outcome of both trials. In both instances, it became self-evident that neither of these cases should have gone to trial. Millions of dollars were expended in this whole mess, and it reveals once more that at the end of the day, the justice system works, and the charges levelled against these men were rightfully dismissed as neither Crown attorneys did their job. They did not prove their cases, and did not prove the guilt of these two men beyond a reasonable doubt. It was the correct verdict.
These men’s egos were in tatters. Their dignity was left beaten but intact. Their careers took a massive hit, as did their pocket books for the high paid solicitors they hired to defend their cases. Their families egos and reputations took a beating too. Family pride is a big deal, and to have your life paraded in mass media and to be prejudged as guilty, all that reverberates in places of business, restaurants and pubs, and the water cooler at the office. Some may feel the ongoing effects when they are rejected for jobs because of this mess they had to deal with. These men and their families and all the egos involved did not leave this battleground unscathed. This was a battle of winner take all, and everyone else be damned!
The humiliation that assails our egos, whether deserved or not, allows us an opportunity to live “an ordinary life”
The life of contentment is found in finding a place and space for “ordinariness” in our lives. Both Ghomeshi and Duffy have had both “humiliation” and “ordinariness” foisted on them. It has made them like the rest of us. There are no lofty pedestals any longer. They are not the mega stars of the media or entertainment industry in Canada. They have become “ordinary Canadians. Ironically, it is ordinary Canadians who prejudged them in the media and in the water cooler talks, and the talk radio call in shows. They were already guilty when they were charged. Now they are plain ordinary. But that is a good place to be. Pride comes before the fall, and both of these egocentric men fell greatly. They are attempting to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, and rebuild their lives. Their brokenness, both personal and financial has humbled them, but in the public eye, but also in their respective families and circle of friends. In the court of public opinion, ordinary Canadians had them sentenced and sent up the river. But what does this say about the rest of us “ordinary Canadians”?
As a Canadian male, at one level I was relieved to see that Canadians can get a fair and just trial in this country. As a Canadian I appreciate even more the checks and balances of our judicial system, and the good judges we have sitting on the bench. I am satisfied that even in processes and procedures that seem to come against any Canadian in the courts, can be challenged by the law and its application, and that you can get a fair and just hearing.
As a Canadian I am aghast at what men go through in cases like Mr. Ghomeshi, where their reputations are all but destroyed and their character is ravaged and the witnesses get to go on with their lives without accounting for the destruction the alleged charges did to Mr. Ghomeshi. Let me be frank here, I personally think Mr. Ghomeshi has got a whole slew of emotional and relational and psychological issues, BUT, as the courts and the transcripts of the trial reveal, the female witnesses were less than credible in their evidence, and were as messed up psychologically as Ghomeshi was. Ghomeshi was charged according to the laws of the land, and in court, he was vindicated and cleared and acquitted. There was more than reasonable doubt and it was the right verdict for the right reasons. But what this reveals to me, is what men go through when they are charged with sexual assault against women, and the public stigmatization that takes place, forever fire branding the accused male of the alleged crime. The loss demonstrated by loss of wages in a lost job and career, as well as the loss of personal wealth to conduct his defense as well as the loss of personal reputation and credibility cannot even be calculated. This man was cleared, acquitted and he still suffered for all of these allegations. What does this say about our system? What does this say about our society and how it views men?
There is something to be said for living a life of contentment and ordinariness
I know that with many career choices there comes a lot of exposure to the public and public personas in our culture are looked upon and celebrated, sometimes with envy and sometimes with distain. In our perennially wired society, where there is very little break for the instant gratification, and the instant connection with the digital world, and nothing can truly remain hidden once it is exposed on the Internet, that it becomes a greater risk to retain a sense of privacy and a sense of being ordinary.
I personally covet my times of quiet. I like my alone time, with myself and my thoughts. I love my shared times of being with my lovely and precious wife Lori, and I love the occasions of celebrating family with my children and their mates. I also covet those times with the few precious personal friends that make up my limited inner circle of friendships.
I am not in the public limelight, but I have seen personally what even happens to ordinary preacher’s families when there is “scandal” involved. I saw it happen when my own Dad had to resign from the Christian ministry over 33 years ago. I was in Bible College at the time, and newly married, and expecting our first child. My inner world was shattered by the resignation of my father, and it took me nine years to get to the bottom of what happened, and for those nine years my life was affected in one way or another by what happened to my parents. Even when I went to speak at churches on a pastoral call, I would be told that I may become like my Dad and the invitation to be the pastor of that particular church was never given to me. That happened to me twice. I know the pain and the shame, and the shattering of your own personal ego, your sense of self, and your sense of family and your sense of justice can be all but destroy in the tumult of it all. My ego took a beating but I kept fighting.
Over the years the humiliation of that time in my life only receded when I realized that there was culpability with my Dad. I became an advocate for justice for all persons affected, and again I suffered for that. My own family of origin has disowned me to this very day. But I could not shake it, that to be an ordinary man, an ordinary Christian man, to be an ordinary family man, it meant I had to be there for those who were victims. My ego was crushed. But my dignity was intact, and I became more than vindicated by being an advocate for the victims before committees and church boards that cared more about public image than they did about truth and doing the right thing for the right reasons. I was accused of betraying my father. No, I was an ordinary son of an ordinary man who wanted to do what any ordinary son would do, that is to hold his father to account for his decisions and actions that affected so many people.
The gift of living an ordinary life
When you go through “scandal” it drives you to live a life of quiet, and a life of contentment. I personally do not have any regrets. I am the man I am today in large part from how I was born and raised in a preacher’s family, and I am the man right here, right now, because of how I navigated different situations and escalations and crises that came into my life, from my father’s resignation, my first born daughter’s diagnosis, battle and eventual death at the hands of cancer, and my own battle with cancer. I have endured disappoints and rejection, and the loss of jobs. I have seen suffering and experienced much soul searching and at the end of the day, I am thankful for each and every one of these moments in my life. I am thankful because it made me who I am today. I embrace my life fully. I embrace each moment in my day, and I thank God I am alive! I thank God for my life. I thank God for the gift of contentment and the gift of what it is to “live an ordinary life.”
~ Sam Buick