The Law Society of Upper Canada has asked for the dismissal of a human rights complaint alleging that one of its security guards racially profiled a black lawyer.
The law society recently filed a response to Toronto lawyer Selwyn Pieters’ Human Rights Tribunal complaint, which alleged a security guard discriminated against him based on race when he entered the building in July.
In its response, the law society denied the allegations of racial profiling and discrimination, saying Pieters did not experience “adverse treatment,” but if he did, it was not because of race.
“The Law Society submits that there has been no discrimination against Mr. Pieters,” the law society said in its submission.
Pieters says that the law society’s response confirms the matter will likely be litigated before a tribunal, as he has requested an expedited hearing. He adds that mediation is unlikely to be successful given the circumstances.
“He did not believe I belonged at the law society and treated me that way,” Pieters says of the security guard. “No amount of legal gymnastics can change that reality.
“That is a situation where I was discriminated against.”
Pieters has said that a security guard stopped him as he was entering the law society to give an intern a tour of the building on July 5.
He claimed that when he presented his identification card, which was expired, the security guard grabbed it and denied him access. He said the security guard treated him like an “imposter.”
Pieters, who was wearing shorts and a T-shirt at the time, then went across the hall to obtain a renewed card in order to enter.
Pieters said there were a number of white members who entered immediately before him and faced no scrutiny.
He said he was subjected to differential treatment based on race.
The LSUC, however, denied that the security guard acted in an aggressive fashion.
The law society contended that the guard moved toward Pieters, as an initial presentation of his identification was hard to verify, as the lawyer was moving.
As the guard reached him, Pieters presented his card a second time and said, “I’m a fucking lawyer,” according to the law society’s submissions.
The security guard then told him the card had expired in 2015 and that he would need to keep it, at which point Pieters went to renew the card.
The entire encounter lasted 35 seconds and the security guard followed standard procedures, according to the LSUC.
The law society claimed the only reason the security guard had stopped Pieters was to check his membership card to confirm his identity and verify the expiry date, and not because of race. When licensees cannot provide an “Approved Identification Card,” their status is verified using an electronic database, and guards are also required to keep expired cards, the LSUC said.
In a letter to Pieters, LSUC CEO Robert Lapper said he reviewed video footage of the incident and said that the people who were not checked by the security guard were law society staff members, who have identification cards that automatically open the door.
In a reply to the law society’s response, Pieters rejected the law society’s version of events and said that the security guard’s “aggressive tone and demeanour, lacked dignity, respect, fairness, integrity and equity towards” him.
“I was stereotyped by the Security Guard and he acted on those stereotypes,” he said. Pieters says that the security guard did not follow the law society’s own protocols as he did not let the lawyer provide another form of identification, nor did he consult an electronic database to confirm his identity.
Pieters said he has concerns that the incident is a symptom of a deeper cultural problem at the law society.
“It’s become a toxic place for me,” he says.
Pieters has requested $75,000 in damages and has asked that the HRTO order the law society to provide anti-black racism training to its staff.
The law society has said it provides its staff with extensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training.
In an emailed statement to Law Times
, LSUC spokeswoman Orli Giroux Namian said the law society takes the allegations Pieters made extremely seriously. She added that the law society met with Pieters and his intern after the incident.
“With regard to each and every allegation made by Mr. Pieters, we have concluded that all Law Society staff has at all times acted appropriately and according to existing policies,” she said.
“Now Mr. Pieters has put his allegations before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and we are confident that there will be a positive resolution in this very public transparent and inclusive forum.”