I think Marie Henein is absolutely inspirational.
In the first year of law school, we learned about legal ethics. We learned about representing clients to the best of our abilities, about keeping our clients’ secrets, and about refusing no client who comes to you because that person may be unattractive or because you don’t like their case. Of course, many lawyers don’t commit to that last one and people will pass up potential clients for various reasons, pointing the person in the direction of another lawyer who might do the same thing.
The real twist for me was in the discussions of not wanting to represent a client because they are contrary to what your personal ethics might be: alleged murderers, fraudsters, sexual assaulters, rapists.
That was the hard one for me. How can a good person represent the rapist? And, more particularly, how can a woman represent a rapist?
I’ve had some time to grow since then which brings me to saying that I think Marie Henein is an absolute inspiration.
I read the live blog of the Jian Ghomeshi trial with the same fervour that I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At first, I recall having that knee-jerk reaction I had in first year of law school – “I can’t believe she’s asking questions about how they actually felt about Ghomeshi”, rhyming off statistics about how so few women go forward and how this practice will only hurt that statistic. I was fixated on the previously judicially-affirmed fact that a victim’s relationship with her abuser is not to be considered relevant in whether the crime was committed. I was angry that Henein had the audacity to not stand beside her fellow women, with all of the rape culture issues still alive and well, and to the complete contrary, put them on trial.
But frankly, Henein did her job. She did her job within the complete confines of her legal ethics – and of her oath -of representing a client, no matter how unattractive, to the very best of her abilities. The quandary has arisen whether the Crown didn’t do his job quite so well. I’m not a Crown and I neglected to take criminal procedure during law school, so I won’t opine on that note. Regardless, no matter what you might say about the process as it exists, Henein was far from a villain. She’s a champion.
Henein is unabashed in her commitment to her career. She is dedicated to women in an otherwise male-dominated profession, predominantly hiring women at her firm where her name is the first in the partnership of Henein Hutchinson.
When she won the Laura Legge Award which “recognizes women lawyers from Ontario who have exemplified leadership within the profession”, Henein didn’t stand up and say “thank you”, she barraged on about the sad state of this profession for women. She questioned why we still hear the domestic attributes of astounding women when they are in front of us for their professional exceptionalities. Instead of being small, shiny, stoically appreciative she said this:
I wonder whether we keep sending the very same message that was sent in 1924-this is no place for women. Maybe all that we have really done is figured out a little nicer way of saying it. I fear that we have paved the golden path for their exit-with compassion and yes accommodation but not enough effort to inspire, to lead, to encourage, to remind our young women- that yes you have an important contribution to make and we, this profession, needs you. And even more, we will give you the opportunity to shine.
The Toronto Star wrote that once, when asked how to do it all with children at home, Henein replied, to the effect, that the children will be okay. Just do the work. I admit I rejoiced in this because my experience has been that matters of childrearing and balancing work with home have had the main stage of conversations about challenges for women.
Henein is no different from the next criminal lawyer except that in her refusal to be smaller or sweeter or less aggressive, she has become exceptional. Reading about Henein has fuelled a feminist fire in me these last three weeks. I have approached everything channeling this force that she is, reminding myself that contrary to the submissions we might have heard, the greatness that my female colleagues and I might achieve won’t be achieved because of feminine curves and won’t be lessened because of our too-soft edges. We don’t need to wear the uniform – the makeup, the hair, the heels – to be successful. We don’t need to be the perfect parent, because with love the children probably will be alright. We don’t need to apologize for being brash when we should be blushing.
No matter what I think about the law of sexual assault in this country, I praise Henein for her refusal to depart from her ethics, from her skill, from her knowledge and ability. In her closing argument, Henein noted that her argument was not that the complainants – a word I hate – had relationships with Ghomeshi which vitiated or mitigated any harm that they could have suffered. She clarified this is not her position. Her position, like any good defence position, was that the inconsistencies paint a different story than the one they first told.
We may not like the verdict of this trial, but the verdict on Marie Henein is, for me: exceptional. She is an exceptional woman in a world where we are forced into boxes and forced to be littler, shinier, quieter. Henein has inspired me like I have never been inspired in this industry. That’s the final verdict for me.
You can read Henein’s entire speech when she received the Laura Legge here.