When journalism met Ghomeshi 

Investigative reporter Kevin Donovan gives reading of his book Secret Life on March 16

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Investigating scandal Journalist Kevin Donovan is in Whistler to talk about his book on former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. He is joined by former Maclean's magazine editor Alexandra Shimo, who will be talking about her book Invisible North.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • Investigating scandal Journalist Kevin Donovan is in Whistler to talk about his book on former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. He is joined by former Maclean's magazine editor Alexandra Shimo, who will be talking about her book Invisible North.

Investigative journalist Kevin Donovan met Jian Ghomeshi just once prior to the publication of articles by Donovan in the Toronto Star that contributed to the CBC Radio host being fired and hit with multiple charges of sexual abuse in 2014.

"I was surprised (at how unprepared he was to talk). It made me realize that he wasn't a journalist (but a presenter)," the long-time Toronto Star reporter recalls.

"He didn't seem to understand the severity of the accusations."

Ghomeshi was fired from his show Q and made a Facebook posting that tried to contextualize his aggressive behaviour to women in both dating and social encounters as "rough sex." He insisted the encounters were consensual.

The case created media debate and social-media arguments across Canada, with people both condemning and supporting him. Ghomeshi, a popular interviewer, was eventually acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one of choking a year ago, with another charge withdrawn after he apologized in court.

Donovan went on to write a book, Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation, in 2016, which explores the journalism, the case and outcome, and the wider impact.

He interviewed 17 women and two men who alleged they were abused by Ghomeshi, investigating back to the latter's years at York University and with the band Moxy Früvous.

Donovan notes the case still upsets people — mentioning a recent ticking off from a woman at a Halifax reading, who questioned his writing the book.

"She said she misses Ghomeshi every day," he says.

Donovan is in Whistler for a reading at "From Human Rights to a Controversial Sex Scandal" on Thursday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

As well, former Maclean's editor Alexandra Shimo will talk about her book Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve. The book, which looks at human rights issues at a remote First Nations community, was shortlisted for the National Nonfiction Award in 2016.

The journalists have been brought in by Whistler Reads. Tickets are $21 and can be purchased on Eventbrite.

Donovan has led a team of reporters on The Star since 1993, and says he wishes all their investigations got the same sort of attention. Another story his team investigated was the scandal surrounding Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

A positive offshoot of the Ghomeshi-CBC story was that there was more public interest when Donovan's team published their next story, an investigative piece about the lack of reporting of sexual assaults and abuse on university and college campuses.

"When we published that, it had way more attention than a policy story normally would have gotten, and that was because of Ghomeshi. As a result, universities and colleges started dealing with this. Some of them had no policy," Donovan says.

"And I think companies are looking at their processes as well.

"It's never a perfect world, but I suspect the true legacy of Jian Ghomeshi will not be his work on CBC, it will be what happened after he was dethroned."

As a journalist, he can find it difficult to determine how much impact a story can have.

"I've never seen (a story) that happened in such a wide-ranging way, where it's not just a change at CBC, it's a change that filters into many different walks of life in Canada," he says.

Covering the story, plus the fallout and writing the book has reinforced Donovan's own approach to newsgathering and storytelling.

"Well, it made me want to do more journalism, which is a positive effect. I'm a player-coach at The Star, I lead a team of eight reporters and an analyst and I do my own stuff," he says.

"I recognize that there are different ways to do investigations, but I am going to stick to the way we do it at The Star."

The impact was also personal.

"I have a daughter who is heading off to university and a son who is in university, and a story like this happens and we have conversations about it. My daughter's reaction is to say she'd kick him, she's an athlete," he laughs.

More seriously, he adds: "It really did start these conversations. One of the things I've often thought is that if you mix Jian Ghomeshi and Rob Ford together you get Donald Trump."

For more information on Whistler Reads, visit www.bookbuffet.com.

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