Maple League lecture broadcasted to StFX despite concerns raised regarding the safety of survivors of sexualized violence
Despite campus uproars, national attention, numerous articles and ‘difficult conversations', Marie Henein took the stage at Bishop's University on Friday, February 10th.
Best known for her role as Jian Ghomeshi's lawyer, she spoke as part of a series of lectures on the topic of advocacy and was broadcast by live-stream to the universities known as the Maple League, which includes StFX, Acadia University and Mount Allison University.
Controversy surrounding Henein's talk began in November 2016 when she was announced as one of the speakers in the Maple League lecture series, with some individuals voicing their concerns about Henein's selection.
Jasmine Cormier, a third-year StFX student, wrote an article about Henein’s controversial opinions and career. Cormier argued that StFX had demonstrated poor judgement in selecting Henein as a speaker, claiming, “The safety of students at this school comes first and foremost, and is more important than hosting a woman who has spent her career contesting women who are possible victims of sexual assault."
Cormier's article attracted national attention from the Canadian press and created pressure over whether Henein should be allowed to speak.
Henein addressed the issue as she began her speech at Bishop's by acknowledging the controversy that had surrounded her talk. She started by defining the root meaning of advocacy and elaborated upon the importance of diverse opinions. Henein explained that universities are the ultimate place for controversy and commented, “When you resist hearing things that make you uncomfortable, you are never challenged.” She also acknowledged that she had considered not attending the event but felt it was an opportunity to bring about change by engaging in the discussion.
Speaking to her job description, Henein stated, “The lawyer defends the client, not the crime,” and added that “just because [she] may represent these people does not mean [she is] a supporter of rape or murder.” Her statements were directly addressing the issue of free speech and expressing diverse opinions.
One StFX student in attendance shared their experience of the lecture: “I was skeptical… but now I no longer question how her morals let her win this case anymore. Now I'm questioning how our justice system allowed Ghomeshi to walk.”
Other students felt the same way when reflecting on Henein's comment of how "painfully human” nature of the Canadian legal system. According to a third-year political science student, “It is not a problem of her but a problem of how painfully ill-equipped our legal system is prepared to deal with rape victims.”
However, Henein emphasized, that by no means does this allow one to insult or rebel against the legal system. Using the example of President Trump, Henein quoted a number of the President’s tweets in which he devalued the American legal system. She felt it especially important to acknowledge one tweet in particular where Trump called a highly respected judge a “so-called judge”.
Henein explained that when the President of the United States “delegitimizes” the judicial system, he is then “demoralizing” the grounds on which the country was built on, the country that he now runs. “It is not only insulting the judge but the entire judicial system of the country”.
Henein also explained the impact on social media and how we receive information today. She described how quickly information is thrown at us and the limited moments for “downtime”. “Downtime gives the chance to reflect, analyze and think critically,” she commented. Henein explained how important these moments are in understanding controversy and emphasized how everyone needs to “think before you tweet."
More than forty students, faculty and community members as well as four RCMP officers attended the presentation live-streamed to the StFX campus. The other universities also had large crowds in attendance.
Attendees were able to ask questions after the talk and those watching from other universities had the opportunity to text in questions that Henein answered on stage. Some of the questions asked included how Henein decides to take a case and about being a woman working in criminal law.
Henein concluded the talk by leaving her audience with a key message about the stages in which a typical mind works versus her own.
“Denial, anger, depression, acceptance,” she explains, is the way in which someone who fears conflict would try to get through something.
Henein ended by saying she experiences the first three stages, but claims, “I’ll never accept.” To accept is failure for her, and Henein described herself as someone who is not willing to fail.