Jian Ghomeshi's lawyer, Marie Henein, has taken Tom Mulcair to task for tweeting #IBelieveSurvivors on the day that her client was acquitted of sexual assault charges, suggesting the NDP leader was just seeking to get votes.
"On a personal level if somebody wants to express their support that's their choice," said Henein, in an exclusive interview with CBC's Peter Mansbridge. "When a politician weighs in, that's a little more concerning to me because you're a person who is engaged and should be more knowledgeable about what you're commenting on."
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Henein was asked about the use of the popular hashtag #IBelieveSurvivors that emerged before, during and after the trial. The hashtag was used by many prominent people and politicians, including Mulcair, who once ran a private law practice and taught law at the university level. He posted his tweet, and a statement linked to the tweet, hours before the ruling.
"When you are denigrating the legal system in which he worked and which you should actually be very proud of — we have one of the greatest legal systems in the world — and you do so not having read a word of transcript, and not having informed yourself of the case, that's disappointing and not something I would put much stock in. But it sure does get you a lot of votes doesn't it?" Henein said.
"Does it?" Mansbridge asked.
"It might. It gets you attention," Henein replied.
'The problem isn't lawyers doing their jobs'
In response to Henein's comments, Mulcair stood by his earlier remarks.
"The problem isn't lawyers doing their jobs. That's a good thing," he said in a statement. "The issue is that the criminal justice system, as we have seen, has structural problems when it comes to handling cases involving sexual assault.
"During my time working on sexual abuse complaints, one of the biggest obstacles to justice that I saw was women not being believed when they came forward," Mulcair said. "I believe strongly in the presumption of innocence. I believe that you are entitled to a strong defence. But I also believe survivors."
Mulcair's tweet on the day of the ruling also linked to a statement titled 'Tom Mulcair: I believe survivors.' In that statement, Mulcair, who didn't refer specifically to the Ghomeshi trial, said that during his tenure at the professions board in Quebec, he "encountered the culture of dismissive victim-blaming when it came to sexual abuse by physicians."
"I learned that it was not only the rules that needed to be strengthened — and not only the protections that needed to be increased — but also the culture that needed to change, and drastically," Mulcair said.
"There is also no doubt that the fear of not being believed may prevent a survivor of sexual assault from coming forward. This is where we all come in," he said. Mulcair added that Canada needs to strengthen protections for survivors of sexual assault and that access to comprehensive support services for survivors should be a right.
He also reiterated that "most importantly, I believe survivors."
Henein told Mansbridge that #IBelieveSurvivors is not a legal principle, nor should it be, as you can't just believe people based on who they are or the nature of the crime.
"We would never want that and historically when that has happened, it's never been to the benefit of the most disadvantaged or the most marginalized.
"We don't presumptively believe police officers. we don't presumptively believe politicians or priests or whatever it is."
Other politicians also took to Twitter to tweet out #IBelieveSurvivors on the day of the ruling, including Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod.
"I think there are lots of ways you can engage in a discussion that is measured and informed and genuinely helpful to the community. And as a politician, that would not be one of them in my view," Henein said.