When an Ontario judge convicted Mustafa Ururyar of raping Mandi Gray, the decision was hailed as a feminist triumph. A year later, it was quashed. The case that put the #MeToo movement on trial
Mandi Gray met Mustafa Ururyar in January 2015, during her first year of a sociology PhD at York University. Gray was an outspoken Winnipegger with a tattoo of roses and a spiderweb on her shoulder. She’d spent some time volunteering with incarcerated women at Manitoba’s Elizabeth Fry Society, where she’d become fluent in the languages of both law and activism. That winter, as York’s teaching assistants hurtled toward a strike, a friend encouraged her to tag along to a union meeting. During the discussion, she kept catching the eye of one of the organizers across the room. Mustafa Ururyar was a first-year PhD student in the political science department. He was born in Pakistan, and his family had immigrated to Vancouver as refugees when he was a year old. At York, he’d thrown himself into student politics, joining the executive committee of the TAs’ union. He was interested in Marxism and feminism, and possessed a dry sense of humour. He had a long-term girlfriend in Montreal, but the couple had agreed to open up their relationship while they were apart.
After the meeting, Gray joined the organizers for a drink. She and Ururyar chatted, and he bought her shots. Gray went home with him that night, and they spent the weekend together. Over the next two weeks, they studied together, had sex and exchanged the kind of tentative, lightly flirtatious texts you send in the first days of an undefined relationship.
On January 30, Gray went to the Victory Café in the Annex to meet with a group of grad students. At the bar, just before 8 p.m., she texted Ururyar to see if he wanted to come. “I’m at Victory,” she wrote. “Come drink and then we can have hot sex.” Ururyar said he felt sick, but half an hour later decided to go after all.
The group moved to another pub around the corner and continued drinking until the lights came on at closing time. Gray asked if she could crash at Ururyar’s place; she’d consumed seven or eight beers at this point, while he’d had four or five. When the students piled onto the sidewalk around 2:30 a.m., Ururyar invited Gray’s friend Lacey back to his apartment with them. She declined and jumped in a cab.
What happened next depends on who you ask. According to Gray, Ururyar had wanted a threesome, and when Lacey left, the night took a terrible turn. He became hostile, enraged that she hadn’t convinced Lacey to come back to his place. “He said that I was unable to meet his sexual needs.” On the walk down Bathurst to Ururyar’s apartment, she says, he became verbally aggressive. “I was an embarrassment, I was embarrassing myself, I was a drunk, I was needy.” She became withdrawn, her self-esteem wounded. She entered his apartment, went to his room and sat on his bed, eager to just go to sleep, while he kept berating her. “I remember feeling really scared because he became somebody I had never seen. I had never seen that kind of anger.” She remembers him saying, “This is the last time I’m ever going to fuck you, and you’re going to like it.”
Gray says Ururyar grabbed the back of her head and pushed his penis into her mouth. He then pushed her onto the bed and had sex with her. “I was like, whatever… I’ll just comply because I don’t know what the repercussions of me saying no will be,” she said. When he was finished, she rolled over, wept and fell asleep. The next morning, she awoke and felt him masturbating next to her. As he tried to guide her head toward his penis, she recoiled. “No, I’m not doing this,” she said. Then she put on her clothes and left the apartment.
Ururyar’s version is very different. At the Victory, he says, Gray ran her hand up his thigh. He was uncomfortable with the public display and asked her to stop. At the next bar, she did it again, and again he asked her to stop. After last call, he invited Lacey back to his place to continue the party, but he says he wasn’t particularly disappointed when she went home. He and Gray walked back to his apartment, their arms around each other’s waists, talking about the frigid weather and the upcoming strike.
In his room, Gray moved to kiss him, and he claims he pulled back. “I moved away because I wasn’t very happy about how she had behaved at the bars. I said that I wanted to end the relationship because it seemed like we weren’t compatible.” Gray started to cry. He moved to comfort her and they began kissing. “I said that this should be the last time that we sleep together or sleep in the same bed.” Gray began to perform oral sex on him. “Do you want me inside of you?” he asked. “Yes,” said Gray. The two had sex, then spooned and cuddled. In the morning, he awoke and saw Gray at the foot of the bed, in her boots and parka, looking angry. She told him she felt used, then left the apartment.
Outside, standing at the streetcar stop at Bathurst and College, Gray texted her friend Mylene at 9:43 a.m.
“Ah, why do I meet abusive psychos?” she wrote.
“What happened?” asked Mylene.
“Mustafa is a psycho and I woke up and I know he fucked me and I didn’t want to since he yelled at me and talked down to me for 15 minutes.”
“Are you okay? That’s fucking serious.”
“Yeah, I’m just really fucking mad. I woke up and he tried to push my head to give him a blow job.”
“What the fuck? What an asshole.”
Gray continued texting on the streetcar heading home.
“Every time he sees me, he just gets more abusive,” Gray wrote.
“He may say and do nice things time to time but what you just told me, he’s not respecting you at all,” wrote Mylene.
Gray responded. “Like, if you don’t consent to sex but don’t not consent, I don’t know what that is,” Gray wrote.
Mylene wrote back right away: “That’s rape, for real.”
“Ugh,” wrote Gray. “I know you’re right. Ugh.”
What do you call it when you don’t consent to sex but don’t not consent? In the months since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, that kind of question has become part of the public conversation. The #MeToo movement began with clear-cut horror stories about a man who allegedly bullied and raped young women, then used every ounce of his power to make sure his victims stayed silent. Since then, the discussion has evolved and expanded, forcing us to confront uncomfortable questions about more complicated, harder-to-classify sexual encounters. Instances that may have felt like flirtation to one party and coercion to the other. Instances where vast power imbalances called into question the very possibility of consent. Instances where the victim did not process what had happened as assault until much later.
Gray didn’t immediately know what to call her experience. But she was certain that she hadn’t consented to sex. That day, a few hours after leaving Ururyar’s apartment, she texted him. “Last night was fucked up,” she wrote. She wanted an apology or an explanation—some acknowledgement of what had happened. Half an hour later, he responded with a single word: “OK.”
She erased Ururyar’s contact information from her phone and unfriended him on Facebook. The next day, she went to Mount Sinai Hospital to complete a rape kit. Then she spoke to her student union rep and the graduate program director. They were sympathetic, but they couldn’t guarantee that the university would penalize Ururyar. She was still unsure if she wanted to report him to the police. If she did, she’d be entering a legal system where she wouldn’t have any control. And yet she believed that reporting was the only way to make the university take her story seriously and to bar him from campus so she wouldn’t bump into him.
Gray was weighing her options while the Jian Ghomeshi story dominated the news. At protests, advocates for assault victims marched with signs reading, “We believe survivors.” Online, the hashtag #beenrapedneverreported elicited thousands of stories from victims who had refused to entrust their wellbeing to a justice system they thought was fundamentally broken. In that heightened moment, something had shifted. “Everyone was encouraging me,” Gray told me recently. She figured if she was ever going to report, this was the best possible time. She went to the police on February 2. Thirteen days later, Ururyar was arrested and charged with sexual assault.
Like Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who carried a mattress around campus to protest how the university had handled her sexual assault complaint, Gray wasn’t interested in hiding. She organized protests and rallies supporting assault victims. She filed a human rights complaint against York for their lack of clear procedures for reporting assaults. She began documenting her experience of the justice system, first on her MacBook camera and eventually with a small film crew. And she waived the publication ban on her name. Her trial would not be a shameful experience; it would be an opportunity to highlight the brutalities of the criminal justice system for survivors of sexual assault everywhere.
For most of Canadian history, cases like Gray’s would never have gone before a judge. Until the 1980s, a woman’s word was held to be so untrustworthy in Canadian law that it was impossible to convict a man of rape without corroborating evidence. A victim’s credibility depended on her sexual history, which could be exhumed and presented before the court in vivid, humiliating detail. Rape within marriage didn’t exist, according to the law, as a man was presumed to have a proprietary right to his wife’s body.
In the 1980s and ’90s, Canada’s criminal code was changed piece by piece to better protect victims and reflect the reality of sexual violence. Today, rape shield laws restrict questions about a complainant’s sexual history and explicitly prohibit the propagation of harmful myths about the way a victim should behave. Today’s laws say the accused cannot simply say he believed someone had given consent; he must demonstrate that he took reasonable steps to ascertain this was true. A 1999 ruling by the Supreme Court made it clear that a defence of “implied consent” would not pass muster. A victim does not need to say “no.” Silence cannot be taken as a sign of passive consent.
These reforms have made Canada’s sexual assault laws some of the most progressive in the world, and yet they have done little to bring justice to survivors. Last year, the Globe and Mail reported that one in five sexual assault complaints were unilaterally dismissed by the police, classified as unfounded. StatsCan data suggests that of the cases police do recognize, less than half result in a charge, and only half again make it to court, compared to 75 per cent of physical assault cases. Of those that make it to court, only half end in a conviction, after a process that many complainants describe as brutalizing and traumatic. The end result is a system in which only three in 1,000 alleged sexual assaults will ever end in a conviction.
Defence lawyers say the problem is that sexual assault cases are simply hard to prove. They often rely on memory and subjective impressions of body language and tone of voice. Danielle Robitaille, one of the lawyers who represented Jian Ghomeshi, explains that the way a complainant is questioned in court is radically different from how she’s treated outside the courtroom. “To move the political needle you have to start with the assumption that people are telling the truth,” she says. “In a sexual assault trial, we start by questioning if the complainant is telling the truth.”
Elaine Craig, an associate professor at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law, says that some lawyers go well beyond protecting the presumption of innocence. Her most recent book, Putting Trials on Trial, scrutinizes how sexual assault cases are adjudicated. Craig interviews more than a dozen lawyers, asking, “If you or someone you cared about were sexually assaulted would you recommend reporting it and pursuing criminal conviction?” Most of the lawyers say they would have serious reservations. She also quotes numerous transcripts of lawyers humiliating witnesses in brutal cross-examinations designed more to intimidate than to glean useful information—in one case, a lawyer asked a complainant more than 10 times how long it took to endure the pain of a bowel movement after a violent anal rape. Crucially, she finds Crown prosecutors who neglect to intervene when rape shield laws are being violated and judges who fundamentally misunderstand the laws they are enforcing.
The baroque mechanisms of the legal system—the elaborate rules, the silly gowns, the strict hierarchies and archaic language—all provide a gloss of authority to a process that is, in the end, just a few human beings with their own sympathies and prejudices, sitting on worn furniture in a fluorescent-lit room, deciding who they want to believe.
When Mustafa Ururyar’s trial was brought to court in 2016, Justice Marvin Zuker had been making those decisions for almost 40 years. Zuker had taken a few turns on his route to the bench. In the 1960s, he was a student sports writer who dreamed of being a journalist before his father convinced him to go to law school. He taught at Ryerson and later OISE, where he still lectures, and co-authored two publications with the social activist June Callwood. Their legal handbook, The Law Is Not For Women!, details how rape cases often put the victim on trial. “Unlike any other crime in Canadian jurisprudence, the sworn testimony of the victim was considered doubtful evidence,” they wrote. “It was as though someone who had been mugged was not believed in court and had to prove that the mugging wasn’t invited.”
In 1978, Zuker became a judge in small claims court before moving to family court in 1990 and criminal court in 2012. He was passionate about protecting the legal rights of women and children and, over decades in family court, he had seen case after case in which men hurt them. “If people have accused me of anything, it’s of sometimes being a little emotional,” Zuker told me recently. “I’ve said what I thought, which is never a good idea if you’re a judge.” Once, overseeing a case in which an accused murderer wanted visitation rights, he had lashed out. “There’s no way I’m going to allow a murderer to see his children,” he told the man’s lawyer. “Of course, I had forgotten he hadn’t been convicted yet.” His decision was thrown out. In another case, three weeks after Zuker granted a father visitation rights in a custody battle, the man threw his five-year-old daughter from an overpass on the 401 before jumping to his death (the girl survived). Afterward, in a rare break from protocol, Zuker spoke to the media, telling them how horrified and devastated he was. “I want people to appreciate the stress that goes into these kinds of cases and the difficulty in trying to determine, quite often, who is telling the truth.”
In 2016, he was nearing 75, the mandatory retirement age for Ontario judges. The Ururyar case would be his last major trial. On February 1, the first day of the trial, Mandi Gray was hopped up on adrenalin. She was ravenous, eating an entire steak dinner for lunch as she waited. Outside courtroom K at Old City Hall, a crowd of activists and York grad students, many with their own experiences of sexual assault, arrived to support her. The Crown attorney was Jennifer Lofft, a fierce prosecutor with experience in sexual assault cases. Ururyar had found his lawyer, Lisa Bristow, on a website that connects low-income Canadians with affordable representation. As a teaching assistant, he made just more than the limit to qualify for legal aid. He worked multiple jobs—as a prep cook at Nando’s and a salesman at a men’s clothing store—to pay his legal fees.
Gray also hired a lawyer to help her navigate the system. After reading a Globe and Mail op-ed by David Butt, a Toronto lawyer who often acts for sexual assault complainants, Gray emailed him. He agreed to represent her, guiding her through the process and preparing her for cross-examination. “I knew that she was a strong, solid, consistent witness,” he says. “Her narrative was cogent, it was coherent, and, to use a judicial phrase, it had the ring of truth.”
That afternoon and the next morning, Gray told her version of events on the stand. During cross-examination the next day, Bristow produced a record of the texts between Gray and Ururyar. She asked why Gray hadn’t mentioned the message inviting Ururyar to the bar when she had reported the alleged assault. “You didn’t make any mention of that text message that you sent asking Mr. Ururyar to have hot sex that night, correct?” asked Bristow.
“I didn’t think it was relevant to him raping me,” Gray responded.
“You didn’t think it was relevant at all for the police to know that you had asked Mr. Ururyar to…come to Victory so that you could have hot sex later?”
“I deleted all the text messages and I removed him from my Facebook, so I didn’t want to say anything that I couldn’t back up with any evidence,” said Gray.
Bristow peppered Gray with questions designed to find inconsistencies in her testimony—questions about how many beers she had drunk, about precisely where her hands were during the alleged assault, about whether her legs were on the ground or the bed, and when she had taken off her clothes. Then she suggested that Gray had taken two days to report the assault because she needed time to concoct her story. Gray denied the accusation. She said she wanted to make an informed decision about what reporting would mean for her future as a PhD student at York. “So your career was more important than getting a violent rapist off the streets?” Bristow asked.
“I’m sorry, what?” said Gray.
She asked why Gray didn’t run away or fight back. “You just laid in bed all night next to the person who violently raped you?” asked Bristow. “Yes, and that’s a very common experience for women,” said Gray.
Zuker listened to the cross-examination in silence. “I had decided to shut up and not say anything,” says Zuker. But by the third day of cross-examination, as Bristow asked Gray to describe the minutiae of Ururyar’s actions the morning after the alleged assault, the judge could barely restrain himself. Bristow asked Gray if she remembered what hand Ururyar used to force her head to his penis. “I don’t know,” said Gray. “So, you don’t have any recollection if it was the right hand or left hand?” said Bristow. For Zuker, the question was like asking someone who had just been hit by a car to remember how many doors the vehicle had. “I was this far away from opening my mouth,” says Zuker. “Because I’m saying to myself, who the hell is going to remember what hand someone used?”
In total, Gray was cross-examined over three days. She found the process nerve-wracking and infuriating, but she answered the questions calmly and consistently. When she caught Ururyar’s eye in court, she smirked and stuck out her tongue.
After three days of testimony, the trial was adjourned for two months. In that time, Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty, and the public largely believed the justice system had failed. When the trial began again, Gray’s crowd of supporters had grown. Among them was Jane Doe, who won a landmark lawsuit against the Toronto police in 1998 for not warning women about the so-called “balcony rapist,” and Linda Redgrave, the witness in the Ghomeshi trial who had been castigated by the judge for not telling police she’d sent Ghomeshi a picture of herself in a red bikini.
When Ururyar took the stand, he told his story in a soft tone, his head bowed. During the Crown’s cross-examination, frustration and anger sometimes slipped into his voice. Toward the end of the cross, Lofft asked Ururyar about the final message he had sent to Gray. After five days of silence following his “OK” text, Ururyar wrote to Gray again: “I am sorry things went as they did. I shouldn’t have said and done some of the things I did. I was upset and felt wronged by you but that does not excuse my own mistakes.” Gray had a new phone number and never received the message.
According to Ururyar, he felt wronged because of the way Gray had touched him in the bar. He was apologizing for breaking up with her the way he did. Lofft had a different interpretation: the message was an apology for raping Mandi Gray.
“No, that was completely false,” said Ururyar.
“Do you agree you were annoyed with her?” asked Lofft.
“Yes, but I did not rape her,” said Ururyar.
In closing arguments, the stories that had emerged in dribs and drabs over five days of testimony were shaped into vivid dramas by the opposing lawyers. In the Crown’s narrative, Ururyar’s anger stemmed from extreme disappointment over missing the opportunity to have a threesome. He was disgusted by Gray’s drunkenness and anxious that his girlfriend would find out about the affair, despite their supposedly open relationship. All of that led him to express “the ultimate contempt.” The way the defence told it, Gray was a scorned woman who had invented a sexual assault as revenge against the man who had rejected her. The accusation was designed to “shoot her into the limelight” so she could become the face of sexual assault advocacy. In court, whatever complexity or nuance had originally existed in that encounter had been steamrolled out, leaving a pair of flat, cartoonish stories.
When the trial ended, Marvin Zuker began writing his verdict. “I went over the evidence and went over the evidence and went over the evidence,” he told me recently. “And then certain things in my mind finally clicked.” He knew what his decision would be, and he knew what he wanted to say. Over the next two months, Zuker worked through eight drafts of a judgment that kept growing longer and longer until it finally spanned 179 pages—an extraordinary length for a five-day trial.
On the day of the verdict, he read almost the entire thing, going through the testimony in remarkable detail. Gray waited at home, receiving updates from the courtroom via text message. Finally, 160 pages into his decision, Zuker explicitly addressed the difficulties sexual assault victims face. “It is important to understand the unique dynamics, distinct emotional trauma and realities of sexual assault,” he read. “Too often, we have preconceptions, and misconceptions, about how we believe a person who has been sexually assaulted should behave.”
Ururyar later told me he sat in disbelief while Zuker read his verdict. He kept his eyes focused on the coat of arms behind Zuker’s head. As the judge began to tear into Ururyar’s testimony, he could hear the words but couldn’t focus on what was being said. “Such a story, scenario we heard from Mr. Ururyar from beginning to end begs credulity,” said Zuker. “It never happened this way. None of it.” Eventually, Ururyar closed his eyes. “I didn’t want to get up and yell something,” he says. “I was just focused on that.”
The verdict didn’t only dismiss Ururyar’s version of the night’s events—it took aim at centuries of injustice. “No other crime is looked upon with the degree of blameworthiness, suspicion and doubt as a rape victim,” said Zuker. “It doesn’t matter if the victim was drinking, out at night alone, sexually exploited, on a date with the perpetrator, or how the victim was dressed. No one asks to be raped.” He cited Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, the landmark 1975 book that redefined rape not as an impulsive act of desire by a stranger, but as a deliberate act of violence within a patriarchal system. He quoted an academic study on “the dynamics of counterintuitive victim responses to trauma” and psychology papers on women’s mental health. He talked about why battered wives stay in their marriages and why women who resist traditional gender roles often evoke less sympathy.
In a section of the verdict called “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Zuker became poetic: “Rape in the case of Maya Angelou is used to reflect the suffering of her race, and to Maya Angelou a bird struggling to escape its cage, trying to understand and respect both her body and her words.” When he spoke about Gray, he wrote with such intimacy that it seemed like he was speaking for her. “Mandi Gray was the wounded one, intoxicated, alone and vulnerable,” said Zuker.
At the two-hour mark, Zuker was still going. Finally, he moved toward his conclusion. “The myths of rape should be dispelled once and for all. We cannot perpetuate the belief that niceness cannot coexist with violence, evil or deviance, and consequently the nice guy must not be guilty of the alleged offence,” he said. “The Crown has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I therefore find Mr. Ururyar guilty of the charge before the court.”
“We were in tears,” says Stephanie Stella, a friend of Gray’s and a former sexual assault complainant who’d been watching the case in the courtroom. “We hugged each other. We applauded him. It was unbelievably validating. Because he was someone in a position of power. And we’d grown used to people in positions of power just ignoring us.” After the decision, she and Linda Redgrave went to the Duke of Richmond pub next door to celebrate. The day, they decided, would be known as V-Day. Victory Day for Redgrave. Validation Day for Stella.
At home, Gray received a text message with the verdict. With her camera rolling, she took a moment to collect herself. “He’s been found guilty. I told y’all he was guilty!” she said, laughing.
If the Ururyar case began as an ordinary trial, Zuker’s decision turned it into international news. “Judge Shuts Down Rape Culture During Verdict Reading,” wrote Teen Vogue. “Canada judge critiques system in sexual assault case: ‘No one asks to be raped,’ ” said the Guardian. The Toronto Star published an editorial praising the judgment. On conservative websites like the Rebel, Zuker was vilified as a bogeyman who heralded a terrifying future when radical feminists take over the judiciary.
The ruling, hailed as a victory by Gray’s supporters, looked very different to the lawyers who’d been following the case. “I haven’t read another sexual assault trial decision that reads like that case,” said the law professor Elaine Craig. The prose was disjointed and hard to follow. Zuker repeatedly wrote about “rape,” despite the fact the crime is called sexual assault. When Gray’s lawyer, David Butt, read Zuker’s judgment, he saw it for what it was: a conviction that wouldn’t last. “We sensed that the conviction was not on solid footing,” says Butt. He told Gray as much, as did her lawyer friends.
Four days after the verdict, Zuker revoked Ururyar’s bail. “The reputation of the administration of justice is at stake when a convicted rapist is allowed to go about his business,” he said. Ururyar was cuffed and transported by van to Toronto South Detention Centre. After 10 days in jail, he was released pending appeal.
At sentencing on September 14, Zuker tore into Ururyar once again. “Any attempt to dilute this rape is repugnant,” said the judge. He sentenced Ururyar to 18 months, the maximum for a summary sexual assault, followed by three years’ probation, and ordered him to pay $8,000 of Gray’s $10,735 legal bill. “Tolerance for rape is a very old but freshly infuriating story,” Zuker told the court. “Victims deserve a new solution, not a stale policy. Shattered lives can be rebuilt, but the scars will always remain.”
Zuker’s verdict read like an attempt to remedy injustices he had seen over a long career. He made a sweeping attempt to address historical wrongs in a single document. What he didn’t do is explain why the evidence in front of him proved that Ururyar was guilty.
On March 14, 2017, Ururyar was back in court to appeal his conviction on seven grounds. His lawyer argued that Zuker’s decision showed that he was biased and irrational. The document was illogical, failed to analyze the evidence, and used academic commentary that wasn’t brought into evidence and so couldn’t be challenged by the defence.
In the gallery, many of the women who had wept with joy during the original conviction watched with dismay as Superior Court Justice Michael Dambrot questioned Zuker’s judgment, calling him “lazy” and “unmoored.”
“This was a simple trial,” Dambrot said. “The trial judge needed to do little more in his reasons than explain to the appellant why his evidence was not believed, why his evidence did not raise a reasonable doubt and why the complainant’s evidence was believed. Unfortunately, despite the length of the judgment, it fails this test.” He went on to add, “A trier of fact cannot reason backwards from literature about rape and how rapists behave to the identification of the accused as a rapist. But that appears to be what the trial judge did.”
He ordered a retrial. And in the postscript to his decision, he noted that Zuker had lifted sections of his judgment from a variety of sources, including a law review article and a New York Times book review. Some of the most impassioned passages had come directly from the statement of the Stanford rape victim that had gone viral earlier that year. “The only symbol that proved that it hadn’t just been a bad dream,” she had written, “was the sweatshirt from the hospital in my drawer.” Zuker’s version was nearly identical. “Mandi is blamed, blamed because there were no symbols that it had not just been a bad dream unless there was a reminder from the hospital in her drawer.”
On a cold day in December 2017, Mustafa Ururyar sat by himself in an empty row of benches in courtroom J at Old City Hall. A handful of reporters chatted while bored court officials idly swiped at their phones. Gray was at home, and the crowd of activists that had come to support her had moved on.
The Crown had decided a second trial was not in the interest of justice. After months of uncertainty and nearly three years in the system, Ururyar would sign a peace bond, promising not to contact Mandi Gray for a year and ultimately leaving him without a criminal record. In court, his lawyer read a statement. “Notwithstanding the unequivocal restoration of his innocence and good name today, there will inevitably be those who stubbornly cling to the belief that Mr. Ururyar did something wrong,” he read. “Once charged, never entirely exonerated.” Then, with some shuffling of paperwork, Ururyar signed the peace bond. “The presumption of innocence is restored to Mr. Ururyar,” the judge said.
Since the peace bond, Gray has continued her PhD work at York. She’s disappointed at the end result but also relieved that after nearly three years of waiting for trial dates, she’s free of the justice system. This spring, the documentary she made about her trial, Slut or Nut, will open at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. More than anything, her case proved how ill-equipped a courtroom is to pursue larger political ideals. A criminal trial is a small, narrow thing—a place to test the evidence, apply the burden of proof and generate a result that protects against wrongful convictions. Even when it looked like Gray had won a landmark conviction, she didn’t see the prospect of jail time for Ururyar as a triumph of justice. She was certain the verdict had done nothing to change his thinking, nothing to reconcile their two interpretations of what happened that night. She was also struck by how little the verdict changed the way people felt about her. “The people who believed me before the trial? They still believe me,” she said. “The people who didn’t believe me? They still don’t.”
After the charges were dropped, Ururyar learned the same lesson. “I’ve said that I’m innocent before,” he told me. “I’m not sure there’s any point in continuing to say it.” He was expelled from his PhD program for overdue coursework and moved to Vancouver, where his family lives. To pay the bills, he got a job teaching SAT prep courses, but he was fired last fall when the company discovered media coverage of the trial. A few months later, he connected with a woman named Diana Davison, who had followed his case intently. Davison is a YouTuber who begins the videos on her channel, Feminism LOL, with the intro, “It’s been over two minutes and I haven’t been raped yet.” She recently posted a video called “Albert Schultz Accusers Might Be Lying” and another defending her “friend” Daniel Holtzclaw, the former Oklahoma City cop convicted of rape and sexual battery.
She’s not someone the old Ururyar would have found common cause with. “But my politics have changed because my view of human nature has changed,” he says. In January, Davison offered Ururyar a job as a researcher at the Lighthouse Project, a crowd-funded endeavour that describes itself as a resource for people who have been falsely accused or wrongly convicted of sexual assault or domestic violence. “It is a long way from my dream of teaching at a university,” Ururyar says.
In his first post for Lighthouse, Ururyar wrote about Aziz Ansari, the actor accused of sexual misconduct. Ansari, Ururyar wrote, had been tried in the court of public opinion, the victim of a new wave of millennial feminists. “When celebrated feminist author Margaret Atwood recently compared the #MeToo movement to mob justice akin to the Salem witchcraft trials, the French Revolution and the Red Guard period in China, she was denounced as a ‘Bad Feminist,’ ” wrote Ururyar. “Like the young Red Guard, who would accuse older members of their own families who had fought for the original communist revolution in 1949, the new feminists seek to purify their older generation.” The piece reads like a former left-wing academic taking his first, somewhat awkward steps into the fetid world of men’s rights activism.
Since his retirement from the court at the end of 2016, Zuker has continued teaching at OISE. More than a year and a half after the decision, he’s still baffled by the criticism he’s received. “I’m not sure that judges normally refer to other judges as being lazy,” he says, citing the appeal judge’s criticism. Some journalists, he feels, had unfairly targeted him. “It’s interesting that so much focus seems to be on a specific judge who convicted somebody as opposed to everybody who hasn’t convicted anybody.”
Zuker doesn’t regret the verdict. “Do I believe I made the right decision? A thousand per cent,” he says. He acknowledges that he probably should have attributed all the passages he included in his verdict, but somehow in the course of eight drafts, cutting and pasting from here and there, they must have slipped through. Whatever problems the verdict had, he insists, were errors of writerly craft, not judgment. “Maybe in hindsight I didn’t set it out as well as I should have,” he says.
At this, Zuker pauses, and after a long silence, he speaks slowly and carefully. “I’ve always said that we’re a product of our history,” he says. Twenty years ago, he tells me, someone close to him was sexually assaulted. Like most cases, it never went to trial. Eventually, the victim confronted the man. His response was simple. “He said, ‘I thought that’s what you wanted,’ ” Zuker repeats, enunciating each word with icy care. “And I never forgot that.” Judges, says Zuker, are supposed to be objective avatars of justice. “But I don’t think somebody can simply turn off their history.”
This story originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.