The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Yves Faguy

Silencing disagreement and promoting understanding of the law

December 6 2016 6 December 2016

 

Commenting on a recent political rally in Alberta where chants of “Lock her up” broke out against Premier Rachel Notley, communications professor Brian Gorman  remarked, "There's an ugly tendency among the extreme right, and I suppose the extreme left as well ... to confuse any disagreement with something that must be eliminated."

Of course, there is absolutely no legal basis for putting Notley in jail. The crowd mimicking the frequent rallying cry at Trump campaign events was there to protest the NDP government’s proposed carbon tax, legally introduced in the province’s legislature for a vote. But the Carleton University professor could have just as easily been referring to the worrying trend on university campuses across North America to shout down controversial figures invited to speak to students.

The latest among these is renowned criminal defence lawyer, Marie Henein, who successfully defended former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi at his sexual assault trial. Ghomeshi was acquitted on all counts, but Henein has been the subject of harsh judgment in some quarters for her role in attacking the credibility of key female witnesses who claimed they had been assaulted by him.

Following news that Henein has been asked to speak at four Canadian universities in February, a loud chorus of students objected to the invitation on grounds that it would “silence” victims of sexual assault and “perpetuate rape culture.”

Bishops University Principal Michael Goldbloom responded last week by refusing to disinvite Henein and he reminded critics that universities are “places where difficult issues can be discussed in an intelligent, informed and respectful way.”

Several op-eds over the last few days have echoed the same sentiment.

Even in the best of times, the most rational and informed citizens can find it challenging to keep an open mind when our courts deal with people accused of committing serious crimes. We now live at a time when people get most of their information in increments on social media and are easily led to facile judgment.

Asked about the controversy, CBA President René Basque told CBA National that he applauded the rush to defend Henein’s right to speak, noting that universities have a role to play in airing a range of opinions and fostering debate. “It’s also an opportunity, frankly, for students to learn about how Canada’s criminal justice system works,” he said. “Attempts to silence Henein betray a profound misunderstanding of the fundamental role independent legal counsel play in that system. If anything we need our educational institutions, at all levels, to do more to promote public understanding of the law.”


Photo licensed under Creative Commons by Janos Kerekes

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