NEWS
11/22/2016 18:07 EST | Updated 11/23/2017 00:12 EST

Speech by Ghomeshi's lawyer 'a disservice to students,' critic says

The choice of Jian Ghomeshi's lawyer as a speaker at four Canadian universities is sparking debate on one Nova Scotia campus.

Marie Henein, a prominent Toronto defence lawyer, is scheduled to speak at Bishops University in February, with the presentation live streamed to St. Francis Xavier, Acadia and Mount Allison universities.

Jasmine Cormier, a student at St. F.X. in Antigonish, has written an article in that university's weekly newspaper, saying Henein's selection serves to silence victims and perpetuate rape culture.

"After all the controversy last year surrounding this trial and all the controversial things she said about women and victims and survivors in the past, it's such a disservice to students who are victims of sexual violence, who should feel safe coming forward, especially on a university campus," Cormier said in an interview.

Lucille Harper, executive director of the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre, said the choice of Henein minimizes the issue of sexualized violence and ignores its pervasiveness across campuses.

"They ignore the fact that in bringing this person in you are potentially retraumatizing students on your campus who have experienced sexual violence," Harper said.

"Or making it really clear as to what might happen should you come forward and disclose sexual violence to the police and go forward through a criminal justice system that you may very well be facing someone like Marie Heinen."

'Successful lawyer'

Cormier said she's concerned by the message sent by Henein's aggressive treatment of the women who had accused the former CBC host of sexual misconduct, and she wants Henein's speech cancelled.

"She's a successful lawyer, she's a woman, and in those respects she would be a great person to have at this school, but the things that she has said and the comments that she has made, and the disregard for victims of sexual violence is just too much," Cormier said.

"When you think of Marie Henein now, that's what you associate her with."

Many of the people commenting online about Cormier's article say Henein's speech will give another view on the important issue and allow for public debate.

'The outrage, the mudslinging'

Henein recently penned her own opinion piece, for the Globe and Mail, about the lessons of Hillary Clinton. She wrote the former U.S. secretary of state's recent loss must inspire women and girls to engage "on every front ... until you cannot be overlooked."

After Ghomeshi's acquittal in March of charges of sexual assault and choking, the then-editor of Canadian Lawyer magazine, Gail Cohen, penned what was headlined "A love letter to Marie Henein," in which she said Henein's peers consider her one of the best in her field.

"The outrage, the mudslinging, the name calling, and the general focus on Henein is a sign of the times, and not a good sign, in my humble opinion," Cohen wrote in May.

"Almost all of it shows an incredible lack of understanding by the public of the justice system, what a defence counsel's role is in the system, and what the rights of the accused are."

Henein did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. She told CBC News in late March that she was simply doing her job defending the presumption of innocence.

A St. F.X. spokesperson deferred comment to Bishops, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

  • Nova Scotia campuses vary in development of sex assault policies
  • 'Utterly shocking': Sex assault reporting on campuses worryingly low