In 2014 and 2015, Ghomeshi was the subject of allegations of sexual harassment or assault and was later arrested. In late 2015, Ghomeshi pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial began in early 2016. He was acquitted of five of the charges on March 24, 2016. On May 11, 2016 the Crown withdrew the last remaining charge after Ghomeshi signed a peace bond and apologized to his accuser. In April 2017, Ghomeshi launched a new online venture, "The Ideation Project".
Ghomeshi was born on June 9, 1967 in London, England, to Iranian parents Farhang (Frank), a civil engineer, and Azar (Sara) Ghomeshi. When he was a child, he was teased by classmates, who called him "Blackie". According to Ghomeshi, he grew up in a Muslim household but elsewhere noted that his family was secularist and even celebrated Christmas and Easter. When Ghomeshi was seven, his father moved to Canada and got a job and Ghomeshi's family followed, first living in an apartment on Don Mills Road before settling in Thornhill, Ontario. Since there was not an Iranian expatriate community at that time in Canada, "Ghomeshi was extremely self-conscious of his appearance and his East London accent ... [and] he felt different." He attended Thornlea Secondary School, where he was student council president. Ghomeshi described Thornhill as a "safe and quiet suburb where conformity was coveted ... The dwellings all looked relatively similar on our street, and most of the houses had big lawns and nice trees". His older sister, Jila Ghomeshi, is a professor of linguistics. Ghomeshi acknowledges that his parents had reservations at first that he did not pursue a more traditional career path, but that they still supported his career choices.
Ghomeshi has written that, during his teenage years, he ensured that his clothes smelled of cigarette smoke to give him "social credibility" even though he was a non-smoker, dressed "new wave" and listened to music from David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Rush. Ghomeshi had an interest in music as a student and in Grade 9 started a short-lived band with a few of his school friends called Urban Transit.
Ghomeshi attended York University beginning in 1985 in the theatre program (in his memoir 1982, he describes himself as a "theatre geek") and subsequently graduated with a BA in political science and a double minor in history and women's studies. According to a former York University student, in 1988 residence advisers at York warned a group of students that Ghomeshi had allegedly hit a couple of students. In 1989, Ghomeshi unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the student government at York. In 1990, he was elected president of the Council of the York Federation of Students with a record-breaking number of votes and subsequently renamed the federation the York Federation of Students. As president, Ghomeshi promised increased funding for the Women's Centre, supported increased safety measures for women on campus and co-founded a pro-choice network. Jim Hounslow alleged that in the 1990–91 school year, when Ghomeshi was president and Hounslow was communications coordinator for the York Federation of Students, Ghomeshi grabbed Hounslow's genitals through his jeans while the two were in an elevator.
In 1983, Ghomeshi and friends Murray Foster, Tracy Jones, Reno Manfredi, and John Ruttle formed a band called Tall New Buildings. Tall New Buildings released two 12” EPs and played various gigs in and outside of Toronto before breaking up around 1988. Ghomeshi, Murray Foster and another bandmate, Mike Ford, then formed a band called The Chia Pets. In 1989, they were joined by Dave Matheson to form the politically satirical folk-pop band Moxy Früvous and together they recorded eight albums before going on permanent hiatus in 2001. Moxy Früvous was originally inspired by street-performing or busking bands and Ghomeshi and bandmates started out by playing on streets in Toronto. Ghomeshi sang and played drums. He was credited as "Jean" rather than Jian on the band's first album but reverted to the original spelling of his name for subsequent albums. A year after forming, Moxy Früvous was opening for headline performers like Bob Dylan. Moxy Früvous sold over 50,000 copies of their debut independent EP in 1992 (gold in Canada). Their debut album Bargainville went platinum in Canada in 1994 after selling over 100,000 copies. The band was also nominated for a Juno award as Band of the Year in 1994. Over the course of eight albums, they sold over 500,000 copies of their albums in Canada and the United States and made an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Ghomeshi released his first solo EP, The First 6 Songs, in July 2001.
A 1996 video tape, revealed in 2014, suggested that Ghomeshi disdained his audiences, stating on camera that people paying to see the band's shows were "losers" and "fucking idiots". David Yuhnke, who was present at the recording, suspected that Ghomeshi was joking, recalling that the room's atmosphere was "sarcasm-laded", but added that he found it "hard to gauge entirely if he [Ghomeshi] was being serious or not".
In 1999, Ghomeshi began a correspondence with a 16-year-old girl, Sally Block, who was a fan of Moxy Fruvous. This continued for three years and included in-person meetings where Ghomeshi is alleged to have been "handsy" with her. In 2002, they had a falling out and Block broke into Ghomeshi's email account. Ghomeshi sought to have her banned from "FruCon" – a Moxy Fruvous convention – and wanted criminal charges to be pressed against her. She was allowed to attend FruCon and Ghomeshi dropped the issue after her father confronted him for "carrying on this type of relationship with an underage girl".
Ghomeshi's production company, Jian Ghomeshi Productions Inc., managed musician Martina Sorbara (now of the band Dragonette) and produced music for Dar Williams. He managed electropop artist Lights from 2007 until 2014, during which time she won the Juno Award for Best New Artist and was nominated for several more. Lights initially supported Ghomeshi after he was accused of sexual abuse in 2014, but later dropped him as her manager, saying: "I rushed to defend my manager of 12 years. I am now aware that my comments appear insensitive to those impacted and for that I am deeply sorry".
In 2002, Ghomeshi became host of CBC Newsworld's >play, a show about the arts in Canada and abroad. >play ran for three seasons and won a Gemini Award. He also did the weekly entertainment report on the Toronto edition of Canada Now, as well as wrote columns for The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. In 2006, he finished a documentary series entitled The End, which described technology's effects on television, radio, and print as well as the future of the media. He hosted the radio series 50 Tracks and 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version on CBC Radio One and CBC Radio 2. From fall 2005 until spring 2006, he hosted a program on Radio One called The National Playlist.
From April 16, 2007 to October 26, 2014, Ghomeshi was the host of Q, a program airing twice daily on CBC Radio One, and on over 170 stations in the United States over Public Radio International. Ghomeshi became "...famous as the coolly insightful host of Q, a marquee interviewer with a mellifluous voice that he would tune to the cadence of his guest, fostering a sense of intimacy." As the host of Q, Ghomeshi interviewed a range of musicians, artists, actors, and other notable figures, a list that included Woody Allen, Paul McCartney, Salman Rushdie, Barbara Walters, William Shatner, Jay-Z, Jimmy Wales and Leonard Cohen. During his time as host of Q Ghomeshi regularly booked guests who shared his agent and lawyer without disclosing this connection. In July 2014 the CBC accepted $5,000 from Warner Music Group to send Ghomeshi to Malibu, California to interview Tom Petty, in violation of CBC policies. The CBC vowed to repay the money after the incident was uncovered by The Toronto Star.
Ghomeshi hosted the 2009 Dora Mavor Moore Awards ceremony. He was set to host the November 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize awards gala but was replaced in October by comedian Rick Mercer. In November 2014, he was replaced as the host of the CBC competition Canada Reads by Wab Kinew, the previous year's winner.
In December 2014 the CBC announced that it would not be rebroadcasting Ghomeshi's interviews and it would be removing them from the CBC's online archive. Reactions to this decision were swift and varied and, after further deliberations by CBC management, the decision was reversed.
On April 8, 2009, actor and musician Billy Bob Thornton appeared with his band, The Boxmasters, on Q, with Ghomeshi hosting. In introducing Thornton, Ghomeshi mentioned Thornton's acting career and added, "he's always intended to make music, he just got sidetracked." In responding to Ghomeshi's subsequent interview questions, Thornton acted confused and gave vague, evasive answers. When asked about his musical tastes and influences as a child, Thornton answered with a rambling commentary about his favourite childhood magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Later in the interview, Thornton said that the reason for his uncooperative answers was that Ghomeshi had been "instructed not to discuss" his film career but had done so.
Thornton said that Canadians did not get up and move or throw things at concerts, and referred to them as "mashed potatoes without the gravy". Ghomeshi replied, "Oh, we've got some gravy up here as well." Ghomeshi described the interview as one of the most difficult he has conducted. He compared the international media exposure that followed the interview to being "in the middle of a tsunami." After the show, Canadians responded to Ghomeshi's "professionalism and the manner in which he handled the situation ... [and] the show received more than 100,000 e-mails with almost unanimous praise for the host."
In the spring of 2014, Ghomeshi advised his employers at the CBC that the Toronto Star was looking into allegations by an ex-girlfriend that he had engaged in non-consensual rough sex and that he denied this accusation. The crisis management firm Navigator was hired to work for both Ghomeshi and the CBC.
In early summer of 2014, reporter Jesse Brown contacted the CBC and warned that Ghomeshi's behaviour may have crossed into his work environment. The CBC investigated and concluded that there were no workplace complaints against Ghomeshi. According to an investigation by the CBC's The Fifth Estate, "almost all known staffers on... Q said they were not contacted by CBC management as part of any investigation." Ghomeshi denied the accusations again and the Toronto Star declined to go forward with the story at that time.
In October 2014, Brown tweeted that he was working on a story that would be "worse than embarrassing for certain parties". Brown later said that he was referring to another story but Ghomeshi requested a meeting with CBC on October 23. During that meeting, the CBC viewed what it later described as "graphic evidence that Jian had caused physical injury to a woman". According to Vice, Ghomeshi showed his bosses lewd text messages on a CBC-owned phone and graphic personal sex videos.
On October 24, Ghomeshi announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the network to deal with personal matters. Two days later, the CBC terminated Ghomeshi's employment, with a CBC spokesperson saying "information came to our attention recently that in CBC's judgment precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian." Ghomeshi subsequently released a "lengthy Facebook post" saying his dismissal was motivated by fear of an alleged smear campaign by an ex-girlfriend that according to Ghomeshi could release private details about his sexual life. Ghomeshi also said he refused an offer by the CBC to "walk away quietly." Chris Boyce, the head of CBC Radio, denied that such an offer was made.
Ghomeshi filed a $55 million lawsuit against the CBC, alleging that the broadcaster misused "personal and confidential information provided to it in confidence". He also filed "a union grievance alleging wrongful dismissal and defamation," and stated through his lawyer that he "does not engage in non-consensual role play or sex and any suggestion of the contrary is defamatory." Ghomeshi withdrew his lawsuit on November 25, 2014. The terms of settlement stipulated that Ghomeshi will pay the CBC $18,000 in legal costs.
Ghomeshi's literary debut, 1982, is a creative non-fiction title, about that year of his youth. It was released on September 18, 2012. It is a memoir of Ghomeshi's life at the age of 14 (during 1982) growing up as an Iranian-Canadian in Thornhill, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto), his attempt to fit in as one of the few non-white kids in his neighbourhood, and his goal of mimicking his idol David Bowie.
1982 received a mixed reception from critics. Zoe Whittall called it a "funny, nostalgic and compelling read, especially for music nerds of a certain age," while Stephen Carlick criticized the book, saying that Ghomeshi's attempt to appeal to the varied audience that listens to his CBC Radio program Q made it "uneven and often tedious" to read, making the reader question who the book was for after the prologue, which Carlick referred to as "1982 for Dummies". Carlick also noted that "Ghomeshi is a nice guy ... inoffensive and genial", but the book, by "trying to appeal to everyone", is spread "too thin".
In October 2014 his publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, announced that it would not publish his second book "in light of recent events" following allegations of sexual abuse.
On November 26, 2014, following termination by the CBC, Ghomeshi turned himself in to Toronto Police and was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking, after an investigation that began on October 31, 2014. The charges concern three separate women. He appeared in court on the same day and was released on $100,000 bail on the conditions that he surrender his passport, stay within Ontario and live with his mother.
Ghomeshi appeared in court again on January 8, 2015, and was charged with three additional counts of sexual assault related to three more women. In a court appearance on February 26, 2015, a judicial pretrial was set for March 27, 2015, and was later put over to April 28, 2015. His lawyer, Marie Henein, stated that he would plead not guilty to all charges. On October 1, 2015, Ghomeshi pleaded not guilty to one count of choking and four counts of sexual assault.
The trial of Ghomeshi began on February 1, 2016, and lasted eight days. On March 24, 2016, the judge acquitted Ghomeshi of all charges on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The inconsistency and "outright deception" of the witness' testimony had irreparably weakened the prosecution's case. Judge William Horkins accused the complainants of "lying or trying to conceal evidence from the court".
A second trial for one additional charge was scheduled for June 2016. On May 11, 2016, however, the Crown withdrew the last remaining charge, re: the alleged sexual assault against Borel, after Ghomeshi signed a peace bond which does not include an admission of guilt. (The publication ban as to the name of the victim, Borel, was lifted on May 11, 2016.) According to Borel, Henein approached Borel's representation to ask for an alternative to a trial, and after several exchanges Ghomeshi agreed to apologize to Borel and did so formally.
Afterwards, Borel issued a formal statement to the media, maintaining that Ghomeshi was guilty of sexual assault but that "a trial would have maintained his lie, the lie that he was not guilty, and would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I am currently trying to stop".
In April 2017, Ghomeshi launched a new creative endeavor called The Ideation Project. The Ideation Project is a music and podcast series featuring all original words, music, recordings and production by Ghomeshi, which has Ghomeshi commenting on a range of cultural and newsworthy topics. Ghomeshi launched The Ideation Project with a monologue called "Exiles" on the topic of what it means to not have a homeland.
Ghomeshi was diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder in about 2009 after suffering a panic attack. He began seeing a psychologist on a weekly basis. Ghomeshi told journalist Courtney Shea that the psychological issues arose because of "[f]eeling like an outsider because of my Iranian background, trust issues. A lot of not feeling good enough". At the urging of his therapist, Ghomeshi purchased a teddy bear to replace his childhood toy and help him deal with his anxiety.
Ghomeshi has a tattoo of his father's signature in Persian on his right arm.