The courtroom was physically rearranged,
the witness box moved to the far corner to spare Ms. Mowatt the
horror of being close to the prisoner's box containing her
boyfriend, Christopher Harbin.
A “support person” was duly positioned
in her line of sight.
Her lawyer, Lydia Riva, although Ms.
Mowatt was but a witness and thus had no standing to have
counsel, was duly consulted throughout.
Ms. Mowatt, a Jamaican immigrant who
turns 20 next Tuesday, was first arrested on what is called a
material witness warrant on April 1 after she allegedly had
avoided being served with a summons to appear at Mr. Harbin's
It was at her bail hearing last week
that Justice of the Peace Lynette Stethem ordered her held in
custody until yesterday, when the trial started with Mr. Harbin
formally pleading not guilty to eight charges, including four
assaults, one assault with a weapon, one forcible confinement
and three counts of breaching earlier probations.
A transcript of the earlier hearing
obtained by The Globe and Mail shows that during this
proceeding, Ms. Mowatt admitted to giving her welfare worker an
inaccurate address and to visiting Mr. Harbin between three and
10 times in jail, and that, according to Detective-Constable
Mandy Morris, who testified, she had failed to keep three
appointments to receive her subpoena for court.
Prosecutor Dominique Basile also told
the court that even Ms. Mowatt's aunt told police she wasn't
going to be co-operative, and that a children's aid society has
alerted all area hospitals that they would be apprehending her
child at birth.
In short, it appeared the chances that
Ms. Mowatt would come back to testify ranged from slim to none.
So, the material warrant kept her in
custody – whence, it must be said, she conducted numerous media
interviews during which she pledged that she would never again
call the police for help – and there she was yesterday, hair in
neat braids, little glasses on her nose, and noticeably pregnant
in her green prison-issued sweatsuit.
But there was little victory in her
First of all, Ms. Mowatt spoke so
softly, and in such mumbling fashion, that she could barely be
heard – although on the recording of the 911 calls she made last
Dec. 28 to report Mr. Harbin as a beast, she had a nice strong
voice, and in her subsequent videotaped interview with
Det.-Const. Morris and her partner, she was at least audible.
More significantly, Ms. Mowatt, whose
first child, a daughter, remains in Jamaica with her mother,
Those assaults she had reported to the
police and elaborated on in great detail in her interview? Why,
she had made them up because she was angry with Mr. Harbin for
kicking her out of the rooming house where they were living.
Those marks on her face, arms and foot? Why, they were variously
the result of bug bites, a carpet burn, a door slamming on her
foot, a bump into a wall, an unfortunate sleep upon a hard
Even in the ghastly minutia, she changed
her tune. Yes, Mr. Harbin watched pornography on his laptop in
their grim small room, but he was just
pretending to masturbate, to bug her. And certainly, he
never went so far as to ejaculate. She admitted only that it
made her feel disrespected – well, that and when he allegedly
called her a “pig” and a “nigger.”
What she didn't deny, she claimed not to
remember, so often that prosecutor Erin McNamara eventually had
her declared adversarial so she could cross-examine Ms. Mowatt,
her own witness – to no avail, for she stuck to her new,
improved story. She cares for Mr. Harbin, she said; she wants
him to be involved with their baby. She regretted calling 911
for help. “I didn't really need help,” she said. “I wasn't in
Outside court in the morning, swarms of
activist women showed up, one of them Wendy Komiotis, the
executive director of the Metropolitan Action Committee on
Violence Against Women and Children, or METRAC. She approached
me to offer her view that Ms. Mowatt never should have been
jailed, and was painting broad-strokes pictures of how all
battered women are fearful, and that there must be “alternate
ways to give evidence,” perhaps non-legal solutions where women
could report through a third party, or testify privately.
“Women,” she said, “just want the abuse
to stop. Women want the violence to end.” She then told me I
didn't understand the “power dynamics” and suggested I work at a
shelter for a year.
Well, the power dynamics yesterday were
The judge was a woman, as was the
jailing J.P.; the prosecutor yesterday was a woman; two of the
three lawyers were women; the court reporter and some of the
court security guards were women. The only place you could have
found more estrogen was maybe at a nice spa.
Ms. Mowatt wouldn't come to court and
went to jail. Under duress, she then came to court and either
lied there or she lied when she accused Mr. Harbin. She was
treated throughout not merely as a victim, but as a feeble
creature of unimaginable delicacy; she was all but given a
blankie and a soother. And in the end, she left a free girl.
Mr. Harbin, 25 or 26, has been in jail
since Dec. 28, the day of his arrest. But for saying “not
guilty,” he uttered no words in court yesterday. Even his lawyer
barely said a word. It is Mr. Harbin's
trial. It is he who is supposed to be presumed innocent. The
result of decades of zero tolerance against domestic abuse is a
mockery of a sham of a mockery – oh yes, and a lousy case to