Ghomeshi Case: Gender Politics in the Court of Public Opinion


I rarely wade into the murky waters of gender politics, particularly as they relate to my profession, but the recent case of R. v. Ghomeshi cries out for comment.

More than enough ink has already been spilled about the verdict, the evidence, and all the attendant side shows. But what really stood out for me in the Ghomeshi case was the staggering amount of commentary about the fact that female complainants were, gasp, being cross-examined by a woman! And the corollary to that, sometimes explicitly expressed, was that Ms. Marie Henein was a traitor to her gender for taking on the case.

As a female member of the Defence Bar I have my own share of stories of the differences in perception of males and females in criminal law, but the commentary about Ms. Henein during the Ghomeshi case was beyond anything I could have imagined. Hello –it’s 2016! Ms. Henein was vilified in some circles, very publicly, for the fact that she did what a criminal defence lawyer is supposed to do: she exposed all the weaknesses in the Crown’s case. She did it thoroughly, professionally, and exceptionally well. Her gender was completely irrelevant – or should have been. And when she wasn’t being condemned to the “seventh circle of hell” for her laser sharp conduct of the case, she was the focus of discussion about her clothes, or shoes.

Imagine, if you can, a male defence lawyer being criticized for vigorously cross-examining someone accused of a crime against another male. Imagine, if you can, counsel such as the late and greatly missed Mr. Edward Greenspan being the subject of commentary about his sartorial choices:

“Today Mr. Greenspan was wearing a well-tailored suit, with a tasteful tie….”

That’s right: you can’t imagine it. Because that would never happen.

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story is that the worst, most vituperative criticism came from other women. Other women who should be proud that one of us has advanced so far in what is, essentially, still a male dominated profession. Other women who can and should admire Ms. Henein for her trailblazing work. She is at the top of her profession because she is incredibly smart and works incredibly hard.

Justice we are told, is blind. Blind means also being indifferent to gender. I cross-examine complainants regularly. Many of them are female. I believe I am professional. I know I am tough. And at the end of the case, what matters to me is not how I was perceived as a female lawyer, but how hard I fought for my client.

And gender politics be damned.

Ruth Roberts, Criminal Defence Lawyer

Bonn Law, Trenton/Belleville, ON