On a damp gray weekday morning, Marie Henein is not sporting her usual gothic chic look.
She’s not even wearing those signature stilettos that give her extra height in court and make her look like a formidable feminist.
The cover photo for her new autobiography, however, is classic Marie: shiny silver designer pantsuit, killer shoes, spiky black hair, very kohled eyes. He looks a lot like an Egyptian-born Lebanese-Arab-Canadian, attached to punk.
It’s the book, “Nothing But The Truth: A Memoir,” that has Henein pissed off.
Well, not mad about the book.
Provides a deep dive into personal history, the training of a brilliant criminal lawyer, and reflections on the judicial system.
She is angered by the outrageous rejection of the book by the Toronto District School Board because, let’s be honest here, Henein had the recklessness to successfully defend television host Jian Ghomeshi on sexual assault charges.
He completely dismantled the three complainants in a masterful cross-examination, exposing them as prevaricators and accomplices.
The presiding judge had no choice but to acquit.
For which, apparently, this feisty feminist can never be forgiven, in some quarters.
“I am a feminist who believes that everyone has the right to a defense,” says Henein over coffee.
Hardly a radical concept. Yet too out of tune and what, trigger? – for teens who participate in monthly Room of Your Own book club sessions. Although Ghomeshi is not mentioned even once in the book, although he refers to the case indirectly on three pages. It is not a professional memory; is personal, heavy on the widely shared immigrant saga, the influence of family and otherness of growing up as a racial minority that made its bones into a profession of the WASP-y establishment.
The school board’s equity department recently gave the impetus to “Nothing But The Truth.”
Book club founder Tanya Lee was directly told that the “no” was directly related to Henein de Ghomeshi’s defense, which was the wrong message to send to the girls.
The result is that the 200 books Henein donated to the club are stacked in Lee’s home. There has been no conversation between Lee and the teachers, this is the rule before a book is discussed with club members, and no space is provided on any school property for this particular book and its author. Teachers and principals would not promote the book either.
(The Equity Star Chamber at the same time also rejected an event that had been scheduled for February with Nobel Prize winner and activist Nadia Murad. “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against Captivity” on Murad’s kidnapping by the terrorist Islamic State, a terrorist group, by which she was held for three months, was an unpleasant memory for potentially fostering Islamophobia.
“This is pure censorship,” Lee tells the Star, about Henein’s ghost.
“They said, this is because she defended Jian Ghomeshi. Those were the exact words. “
The stupidity of it all, particularly when his four-year-old book club is aimed especially at girls from low-income families who may not be able to afford books, left Lee almost speechless. This is a voluntary passion for her; it is very in tune with the sensibilities of the girls.
“The book club is a safe space for young women. They know they are loved and they know they are respected. And they are there to celebrate. “
The insult to the girls’ intelligence, much more than to his own integrity, deeply dismays Henein.
“I was very taken aback. He was puzzled and deeply frustrated that they had clearly made that decision without opening the first page, which would tell them what was to come.
“I was surprised that five years later (Ghomeshi’s trial was in 2016), educators were not going to make a principled or informed decision.
“I was surprised that being a defense attorney and believing in the presumption of innocence makes me toxic to young people.
“I don’t understand the thought of that.”
Scolding and shaming feminists who describe themselves for representing Ghomeshi doesn’t bother Henein much, although it does bother him that women attack women. “I don’t feel the need to explain to anyone what my views are. My concern is, honestly, if they say that you are somehow a traitor to your gender, it is a gender comment, first of all, and it is very negative.
“Here’s the problem and I really struggle with it: it’s not a good look for us to be fighting each other. All it does is give people the ability to fire … fire women. It’s not publicly productive to get in trouble. It accomplishes nothing. “
Henein, in addition to being one of the nation’s leading litigators, has taught law for years. She acknowledges that it can be an arcane subject for those who have never set foot in court. She has problems with gender bias in the law. This book club quote was expressly intended to enlighten, to defuse congestion.
“It was just an opportunity to talk to young girls and, (I hope), there would be some immigrants there, who, like me, had never met a lawyer, who did not understand what the career was. We often feel out of reach. It’s good to talk to someone. How’s it going? What should I do?
“I can talk about the variety of careers in law, about the aspirations of young women.”
At a university conference, before the book was published a month ago, Henein was stunned when organizers first took the stage to tell the audience that crisis counselors were present.
Why would you need crisis counselors? Henein asked. “Oh, you know, because if someone gets turned on by what you say.”
Oh, for the love of baby Jesus!
“I think the problem is that universities are so nervous about any kind of critical thinking and anyone who opposes it, as if education is always unobjectionable. It must be something that we all agree on, and that if you tell someone something they will be alarmed and provoked, and that would be devastating.
“It is condescending and deeply patriarchal.
“He deeply despises our intellect and our ability to resist discussion.
“It is absolutely horrible.”
Last Friday, after the TDSB’s censorship of Henein (and Murad) was made public, the board attempted to back down. Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education, issued a statement described as “clarification.”
It read, in part: “An opinion that did not reflect the position of the Toronto District School Board was shared with the book club organizer before the staff had a chance to read the books, something that is routinely done prior to hand them out to students. The staff is reading both books and anticipates being able to add them to the list of titles used in the corresponding courses. “
Except, Lee notes, “nothing like this has ever happened before.”
Henein received a personal apology.
On Thursday, board spokesman Ryan Bird added, in a telephone conversation with the Star: “Clearly the book was not read. I can assure you that it is being read now. “
On Thursday afternoon, the book club met virtually, about 70 teenage girls, with Henein as a guest speaker. A sample of your questions:
“How do we make the public / social media understand that a person who is found not guilty in our judicial system should be considered innocent?”
“Do you feel, with everything that has happened to indigenous and black people, that people have a great distrust in the legal system?”
“Is it difficult to represent people who have different beliefs than you?”
“Have you ever faced a case where the person on trial was obviously guilty and you had to defend him?”
Sharp cookies, those girls.
And no one was injured in the making of this Zoom.
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