Launching an investigation without a complaint unrealistic

Nov 11, 2014 By Matthew Friedberg
Suggestions made since allegations against former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi have come to light that police can – and should – launch investigations without an official complaint are unrealistic, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.

"The police need a co-operative witness to a crime," he says. "There is a fundamental difference between what I call 'specific victim crime' and where there is no specific victim. Where there is a specific victim to a specific incident with a story to tell, someone is required to tell that story fully and voluntarily to the police."

Friedberg says this can be contrasted to 'non-specific' victim crime or what some people call 'victimless crime' where there are no voluntary witnesses and no specific story to tell.

"We often think of society in general as the victim of these crimes, things such as drug trafficking," he says. "In these cases, the police have to employ surreptitious means to investigate these crimes such as undercover officers, agents, informants and wiretaps to name a few. The types of crimes Mr. Ghomeshi is being investigated for at the moment require real live witnesses who want to tell a story whether it be theirs or a witness to someone else's story."

Friedberg says it would be dangerous and unfair for the police to proactively investigate people for these kinds of crimes.

"An investigation will not end with a voluntary witness, but it starts with one," he says.

Friedberg makes the comments in an interview with AdvocateDaily.com after some critics suggested that police should have launched an investigation into the former CBC Radio host before any of the alleged victims had made official complaints to police.

Initially, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair reminded women who have been victims of sexual assault to report that crime to police, saying there was no open investigation into the Ghomeshi allegations because the force hadn't yet heard from any of the women who have spoken in the media, reported the National Post.

Soon after he made that statement, however, Toronto Police announced the force's sex crimes unit was launching an investigation into the allegations after two women made complaints about the former CBC personality. Another woman has since come forward to police and the investigation continues; no charges have been laid and the police chief hasn't said whether the number of complainants has increased, says the newspaper.

Friedberg says the police decision to hold off launching an investigation into Ghomeshi was “measured, fair and treated him like any other citizen.

"Police cannot go on a witch hunt – how would that look in a court of law?”