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Respected lawyer Marie Henein has received well deserved praise for her recent work to clear Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. But the revered lawyer has also been subjected to vitriolic contempt in the not so distant past. Denounced as a traitor to women, she reluctantly granted an interview to Peter Mansbridge on CBC’s The National in 2016 to help the public better understand how our legal system functions.
The right to a fair trial would be meaningless if lawyers refused to defend an accused based on concern for their own popularity.
If lawyers could be bullied away from acting as vigorous advocates for their clients we would only be offered show trials, not justice. The lawyers would be entertainers, not officers of the court. But Marie Henein is the real thing despite how people may feel about her clients. Of the many words used to describe Henein, whether from friends or foes, integrity should be at the top of the list.
In response to Peter Mansbridge’s question about whether or not the public backlash against her for successfully defending Jian Ghomeshi made her uncomfortable, Henein replied “It’s not a matter of my comfort level. You would never go to a surgeon and ask them ‘how comfortable are you operating on me?’ You expect them to do their job.’”
And Henein defends her clients with the precision of a surgeon, albeit a surgeon with a stunning wardrobe.
Both praise and vilification of Marie Henein are connected to how the media portrays particular cases as they go to trial. The lawyer remains the same person, reshaped and recast as a villain or hero depending on whether or not the public wants her client convicted. And how those opinions are generated are connected to the way the accused is portrayed by reporters.
Too few words are spent explaining to the reasons and foundations of our legal principles to the public. The Blackstone Ratio, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” is mistakenly seen as some sort of statistic in which ten out of eleven acquitted people are actually guilty. As if this is some sort of twisted arrangement made between corrupt lawyers and judges.
In response to ill informed protests or condemnation of her work, Henein said in her interview with Mansbridge, “I respect their right to say [disparaging things.] I don’t respect their opinion or necessarily agree with it. I know who I am. I know what my beliefs are. There is no question in my mind. And I don’t feel the need to have to justify myself.”
Though Henein is currently being praised for her enduring qualities of methodical hard work, devotion to justice and indomitable spirit, just over two years ago she was almost deplatformed as a threat to university students. Nova Scotia protestors claimed it would be a “disservice to students” to merely allow Henein to speak.
That Marie Henein chooses to focus on her job and ignore the court of public opinion shows a professionalism and devotion to her craft which other women could learn from.
Much has been made in recent years about the struggles women face when trying to excel in male dominated trades, but not all that trouble comes from “The Patriarchy.” Henein pointed out on The National that “when males disagree with each other or are on opposite sides of things you’re not viewed as a person who betrays your gender, you’re viewed as people who disagree.”
The “sisterhood” that previously condemned Marie Henein has a few things to learn from her.
If competence is a measure of worth, women could have no better role model than Marie Henein and should pay less attention to her shoes and focus instead on what she has to say about our legal system. While it may be popular right now (even from other lawyers) to undermine public faith in our judges and courts, Henein is devoted to keeping the parts that work intact.
There are reasons Henein is likely hesitant to engage with the media, who largely shape public opinion outside of the courts. In the interview with Mansbridge she said “#IBelieve is not a legal principle, nor should it ever be.”
“You’re not guaranteed a result. That’s not how the system works. You know what you’re guaranteed? You’re guaranteed an opportunity to be heard and you’re guaranteed a fair trial.”
Both the media and the court of public opinion seem more concerned with upvotes, likes or clicks and less concerned with justice.
While the outcome for Henein’s latest client has rallied cheers and accolades, the incredible woman behind the devotion to fact finding and meticulous hard work that cleared Vice-Admiral Norman is the same person behind every other case she’s handled.
Marie Henein is one of Canada’s best lawyers, not because she’s ruthless or cunning, but because she has a passion and love for the rule of law. She didn’t get where she is by pedigree or privilege, she got there by being good at her job.
While Henein has said that as soon as a case is over she’s thinking about the next one, I’d give a word of advice to future university students: Next time you get a chance to hear Marie Henein speak, sit down and listen carefully and learn from the past.