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Marie Henein: The complex feminism of the woman trying to clear Jian Ghomeshi’s name

She is undoubtedly a feminist, who rejects the message women have to be perfect to “have it all.”

Police escort former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, centre, who appears with his lawyer Marie Henein, right, for his pre-trial hearing for his sexual assault case in Toronto on Thursday, October 1, 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu

Police escort former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, centre, who appears with his lawyer Marie Henein, right, for his pre-trial hearing for his sexual assault case in Toronto on Thursday, October 1, 2015.

It’s hard not to admire — even idolize — Marie Henein.

Particularly after you’ve read the new magazine profile of her.

Until it landed this week in Toronto Life, Henein had been defined in most Canadians’ minds as the enigmatic lawyer representing former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi against explosive sexual assault charges.

That made her, to some, an enemy of feminism. To others, it made her not just a boss, but the boss. A frighteningly smart, incredibly talented (not to mention impeccably dressed) woman at the very top of criminal defense law in this country. So what if she is defending an alleged predator? Someone’s got to.

Now, Henein is allowing us a far more intimate look, from which emerges a far more complex picture. And there are two questions to ask: Why now? And what (or so what) about her feminism?

Described as a shark, a brilliant strategist and incredibly hardworking, Henein also emerges as an astute sculpturer of her own image. There are no missteps, there is always calculation.

Take this comment, which a CBC story attributes to a lecture she gave in 2010:
“The importance of developing your narrative starts from the moment the client walks into your office. It drives everything that you do, your analysis of the law, your comments to the media, your approach with experts and witnesses.”

Under that light, I read the article as part of the Ghomeshi saga. After all, Henein hardly needs the media profile — she got that just by taking the case, and her handling of it will speak far more than a magazine piece.
Then there’s her feminism.

A criminally low sexual-assault conviction rate in this country won’t go away if lawyers like Henein keep doing their best in a system stacked against victims. On the flip side, lawyers should always do their best. Even if that means — as Henein has done in the past — attacking the credibility an alleged victim.

She is undoubtedly a feminist, who rejects the message women have to be perfect to “have it all.” She brushes off questions about juggling motherhood and work by telling women to just do it. But that’s not the sentiment of someone inclined to prioritize structural inequality in society, or our legal system, over individual agency. Henein’s apparent religious devotion to the law seems to supersede her feminism.

We seem to want powerful women to reflect our own brand of feminism. But Henein seems to judge herself on her devotion to upholding the law. It’s hardly fair to condemn her for doing exactly that.