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Letter: Let's have respectful dialogue on race

Letter to the editor
|Written By Arlene Huggins, Jayashree Goswami, and Lai-King Hum

The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, and the South Asian Bar Association collectively comment on an article in the Nov. 3 issue of Law Times, “Non-white lawyers feel alienated, report finds,” by Julius Melnitzer.

We jointly commend the Law Society of Upper Canada for taking steps to identify and address the barriers and issues faced by racialized lawyers and paralegals by issuing its consultation report on Oct. 30. This important work is the result of numerous interviews, focus groups, discussions, and a survey sent to all members of the LSUC.

The term “racialized” has been adopted as the preferred term used to describe visible, ethnic or racial minorities as defined by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The report’s findings on the challenges racialized lawyers face give voice and credence to the experiences and issues that our members have confronted for years.

Our respective associations have mandates to advocate for diversity and inclusion and act collectively to overcome barriers. The challenges identified in the report include:

•    Racist and discriminatory remarks and behaviour.

•    Bias and stereotyping based on race or ethnic background.

•    Barriers and challenges unrelated to merit in securing articling positions, employment, and advancement.

•    Social and economic exclusion, isolation, and alienation from the dominant culture.

•    A lack of both social and professional networks, connections, and mentoring critical to advancement and success in the profession.

The report includes a consultation process. The upcoming consultation will inevitably elicit comments based on a disbelief that any barriers exist and an underlying assumption that any failure to advance by racialized lawyers and paralegals is a result of a lack of merit rather than barriers. Such comments betray a lack of awareness and respect for the actual experiences of racialized licensees and are a hindrance to real progress towards making the profession inclusive and reflective of Canadian society.

Historically, the legal profession has been among the most conservative and, until relatively recently, excluded women, racial and religious minorities, and others. The report is an attempt to address remaining latent biases, further level the playing field, and affirm that discrimination in the legal profession must be acknowledged and fully addressed.

Lawyers and judges, as officers of the court and as part of the administration of justice, should embody and exemplify principles of equality, justice, and fairness. The empirical evidence from the report clearly shows that a large portion of the profession experiences exclusion, prejudice, and barriers to advancement that put our ability to uphold those principles in jeopardy and, from a public perspective, cast disrepute on the administration of justice.

The report is an exciting and unprecedented opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the barriers that remain in our profession and consider the steps we can take towards a diverse, inclusive, and, consequently, more robust profession.

Our three organizations jointly call for an open, respectful dialogue about how we can best overcome the challenges identified in the report. The first step toward this requires that the report be read with an open mind and a willingness to treat all lawyers and paralegals as equally valuable and contributing members of the legal profession.

Arleen Huggins, president, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers;

Lai-King Hum, president, Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers;

Jayashree Goswami, president, South Asian Bar Association

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