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Rise and fall of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi revealed as trial begins

Tickets always sold out quickly when Jian Ghomeshi would bring his arts and culture CBC Radio show Q out of the studio and into theatres around North America for live tapings. Sure, the audience was there to hear the hot bands and see the celebrity guests in person, but the host was a star, too: a magnetic, if mercurial, ringleader who was always in control of the festivities, and never at a loss for words.

Tickets went quickly on Monday for his first appearance as a criminal defendant, too, with some media showing up at the front door of Old City Hall in Toronto even before dawn to ensure themselves one of the 30 reserved seats in Courtroom 125, where Mr. Ghomeshi is on trial on four counts of sexual assault and one of overcome resistance by choking.

Jian Ghomeshi watch: What you've missed so far

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Mr. Ghomeshi's story is an unusual one here in Canada, where few of us rise high enough to be brought down as swiftly as he has. A notorious control freak who stewed over even slightly unkind reviews of his on-air performance, how would he respond when facing his accusers for the first time, listening to them make allegations of beastly behaviour?

Mr. Ghomeshi had appeared in public only a few times since his infamous perp walk in November, 2014. Those still used to the voluble and perfectly stubbled star of Q might have been startled to see Mr. Ghomeshi shuffle into the courtroom on Monday, trim in a greyish blue suit, with his hair tamed in a manner befitting a 48-year-old man rather than the tousle-haired Peter Pan he had played for so many years. His eyes were rimmed with dark circles.

But if Mr. Ghomeshi was the prime attraction, he remained uncharacteristically mute, averting his eyes from his former colleagues in the media gallery on his way in and out of the courtroom. His only contact with anyone in the gallery came at the beginning, when he spotted his mother, walked over and shook her hand, offering a faint smile.

He always listened well to his guests, and he did so again on Monday during the testimony of the Crown's first witness, a woman whose allegations of incidents in December, 2002, and January, 2003, form the basis of two sexual-assault charges. (The woman's identity is protected by a court-imposed publication ban.) He sat impressively still, his chair at an angle facing the witness box, chin in his upturned left hand. He gripped a pen tightly in his right hand, making notes.

In the afternoon, Mr. Ghomeshi's lawyer, Marie Henein, unleashed a series of surgical strikes at the complainant. The woman had told Crown counsel Michael Callaghan she had been charmed by Mr. Ghomeshi when she met him while working as a server at a CBC Christmas party in December, 2002, and had felt safe with him when they later went out for drinks, partly because he drove a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, "a car that reminds me of a 1960s Disney movie."

But in her cross-examination, Ms. Henein suggested to the witness that she misremembered important details of the alleged incidents, and, in fact, perhaps Mr. Ghomeshi did not even own a VW Beetle at the time of the alleged incident. "I'm not really a connoisseur of cars," the woman replied. Mr. Henein pounced, declaring: "What I'm interested in is your memory."

Mr. Ghomeshi, who had been watching this exchange intently, began blinking rapidly, clasping his hands together and looking down at the floor. He seemed to wince a bit at the unfolding ugliness before him, maybe even empathize with the woman's apparent confusion and evident pain up there on the witness stand.

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After all, she had once been a guest in his own personal show, and a good host never likes to leave his guests feeling bad.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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