Jasmine Cormier, a contributor to this publication, has passionately argued in a recent article that Bishop’s University should not have invited Marie Henein to be part of the Maple League lecture series. Cormier’s article, entitled “Difficult Conversations at StFX”, caricatures and slanders Heinen, but, to be fair, it does present a somewhat cogent argument.
My purpose in writing this article is twofold: first, I will remedy Cormier’s inaccurate portrayal of Henein – both as a person and as a professional. Second, I will demonstrate that Henein’s being selected as a Maple League lecturer was in fact a good thing. On this count, I will address the specifics of Cormier’s argument while also presenting a positive argument of my own.
Cormier’s portrayal of Henein is grossly uncharitable. In her comparison of Henein’s legal stance with StFX’s sexual violence policy, Cormier paints Henein as having a general indifference for women’s rights. Cormier goes on to claim that Henein’s professional history is so deplorable that her being selected represents “a great disservice” to other potential candidates. She fails to mention, of course, that Henein strongly self-identifies as a feminist and, in many ways, has been an advocate for women’s rights in the public eye. For instance, in a recently published article that she wrote for The Globe and Mail, Henein thanked Hillary Clinton for encouraging young women to challenge the glass ceiling, while at the same time abhorring the fact that “a progressive society has difficulty embracing women in positions of power.”
It should also be duly noted that Henein is a co-founder and administrator of a successful pro-bono legal service to prisoners who have run out of legal options. Many of these prisoners are members of marginalized groups. Cormier ignores this part of Henein’s resume, but does not shy away from making the following jab: “who’s to say how Henein would react to a sexual assault case that wasn’t benefitting her financially [sic]”. I leave you, the reader, to be the judge. Given
the aspects of Henein’s career that I have outlined, does she seem to be a sell-out type? Perhaps Cormier should have considered that Henein’s stances in the courtroom are motivated by a conception of justice rather than dollar bills.
Underneath her journalistic flourish and rhetoric, Cormier manages to present the following argument against Bishop’s University’s decision to invite Henein: if selecting Marie Henein as a guest lecturer will silence victims and perpetuate rape culture, then Marie Henein should not be selected as a guest lecturer. Cormier holds the first claim in the conditional to be true, and therefore, she deduces the second.
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What are Cormier’s grounds for asserting the first claim? Well, it seems as though she hangs her hat entirely on Henein’s history of ‘victim shaming’ in court. In other words, since a part of Henein’s history has arguably contributed to silencing victims, Cormier asserts that her lecturing will silence victims. That connection is tenuous. I have already shown that a significant part of Henein’s history has revolved around defending women’s rights and advocating for marginalized groups. Based on Cormier’s own logic, it seems as though I would be justified in therefore deducing that Henein’s lecturing will increase respect for women and marginalized groups.
Cormier’s argument, then, is nothing but speculation. In order to really assess whether or not Henein will be a good lecturer, it must be determined what constitutes a good lecturer in the first place. Bishop’s University’s President, Michael Goldbloom, has recently reminded the public that the purpose of the Maple League lecture series is to promote intelligent discussion. This message, of course, is in line with the spirit of post-secondary education. University is precisely the place to have unfiltered discussions about feminism, justice, law, etc.; it is not the place to shy away from controversy. If promotion of intelligent discussion is the goal, then how can anyone deny that Henein will make a great lecturer? The mere fact that she was invited as a lecturer has promoted more intelligent and provocative discussion than the other lectures combined.
As a final consideration, I would like to remind everyone that Marie Henein plays an integral role in the upkeep of Canadian society. Whether you like the way she does her job or not, you cannot deny its importance. Cormier’s article was not the first to disparage defense attorneys who handle sexual assault cases. Is courtroom ‘victim shaming’ something that should be celebrated? Of course not. Is it a necessary evil that must be suffered through to ensure that the accused remain ‘innocent until proven guilty?’ Until I am convinced otherwise, I certainly think so. To grant alleged victims of sexual assault exemptions from otherwise standard cross-examination procedure is to treat those who have been accused with prejudice. Any trial is a zero-sum game. Networking opportunities, such as highly publicized guest lectures, are a type of zero-sum game too. If Marie Henein perfectly satisfies the primary purpose of the Maple League lecture series (generating intellectual discussion), then how can one justify denying her on the basis of her profession? After all, her profession is, again, among the most important in all of Western society.