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LSUC statement of principles faces some backlash

Report found racialized lawyers face barriers
|Written By Alex Robinson
LSUC statement of principles faces some backlash
Hassan Ahmad says the criticism that the statement of principles is receiving is not necessary, as the way the requirement is written is fairly benign.

The Law Society of Upper Canada will not impose a penalty on lawyers for not complying with its statement of principles requirement this year, but the regulator is not ruling out doing so in the future.

The new requirement has faced some backlash from the profession since it was recently introduced as part of an initiative to tackle the barriers faced by racialized licensees.

It requires all licensed lawyers and paralegals to write a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

Opponents have said the requirement amounts to policing thought and that it imposes belief on lawyers.

“It’s offensive in my view because it’s requiring lawyers to make a statement as to their beliefs,” says Bencher Sidney Troister, who voiced concern over the requirement when Convocation approved it in December.

“Judge me by my conduct — not by a statement of principles that may or may not be what I actually believe,” he adds.

Bencher Joe Groia has also submitted a motion asking Convocation to reconsider the statement of principles and requesting that conscientious objectors be exempt from the requirement.

The new requirement means lawyers will have to check a box on their annual reports that they completed the requirement.

Lawyers do not have to submit the statement to the law society, but it is mandatory to write it.

LSUC Treasurer Paul Schabas says those that do not check off that box will not receive a penalty this year, but they will likely receive a letter from the law society noting they are not in compliance.

He stresses that this is just the beginning of the process and that it remains to be seen whether there will be penalties for non-compliance in later years.

“We will wait and see whether there will be sanctions down the road for this, but as I said, this is not our objective at this time,” Schabas says.

He adds that the law society is looking to have a positive and proactive approach to the requirement at this point.

“This is a conduct obligation to recognize that we have to commit to these values and it’s not a speech obligation or a thought obligation,” he says.

“It’s an obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, which is nothing more than the obligation lawyers have already.”

Supporters of the requirement say that the statement of principles are important as there is a lack of acknowledgement in the legal profession that there are barriers that exist for racialized lawyers.

Hassan Ahmad, a lawyer with Koskie Minsky LLP, says the criticism that the statement is receiving is not necessary, as the way the requirement is written is fairly benign.

At the end of the day, Ahmad says, a statement on a piece of paper is not necessarily going to change very much.

“What’s really going to change matters is the actions and the intentions and the way we behave as lawyers within society,” he says.

Troister says imposing the statement of principles is also inconsistent with  Convocation’s 2014 decision to refuse accreditation to a proposed law school by Trinity Western University.

In that matter, which is going before the Supreme Court of Canada this fall, the law society voted against accreditation because of a provision in the school’s covenant that bans students from “sexual intimacy” with someone of the same sex.

“Are they just picking and choosing which statements of principles they like and which ones they don’t like?” says Troister.

Some lawyers are now saying they will not comply with the statement of principles requirement.

Criminal defence lawyer Hans John Kalina, who intends not to comply, says the requirement is contrary to s. 2(a) of the Charter, which protects freedom of conscience and religion. He says it also goes against s. 2(b) by imposing a belief upon lawyers.

“My issue is not with the content of the principles, as laudable as they are, it is with the requirement that they are imposed beliefs,” Kalina says.

“This is no different than the law society imposing upon me the requirement that I must believe in god or a specific religion.”

Kalina also questions how subscribing to a statement of principles would affect his ability to defend people accused of heinous crimes if doing so conflicts with those principles.

Bencher Joe Groia has also submitted a motion asking Convocation to reconsider the statement of principles and requesting that conscientious objectors be exempt from the requirement.

Convocation approved the requirement in December as part of a package of 13 recommendations in its report about the challenges faced by racialized licensees.

The report found racialized lawyers experience widespread barriers at all stages of their careers.

Troister put forward a motion at the December meeting that would break up the recommendations so they could be voted on separately, but that was voted down.

At the time, Troister questioned why the package was being voted on in an all-or-nothing approach when there were parts that some benchers found problematic.

He said that putting them all together as a package would mean the nuances of certain recommendations would be overlooked.

“If the recommendations are so sound, what is the fear of looking at them separately?” Troister said at the time.

Those who opposed voting on the recommendations on a piecemeal basis said that the package did not go far enough as it was and that they supported the recommendations under the understanding they would all be approved together.

Supporters also said that all the individual parts were meant to work together to tackle the problems identified in the report.

Benchers unanimously passed the entire package of recommendations with three benchers abstaining.              

  • Not A Unanimous Decision

    "Benchers unanimously passed the entire package of recommendations with three benchers abstaining." Unanimous = Fully in agreement Obviously, if there were 3 abstentions then it was not unanimous. I agree with the comment below that the names of the benchers and how they voted should be disclosed to members and to the public.
  • Come Clean

    Nick Curran
    "Fairly benign?" Well if something this "benign" is receiving so much backlash and will likely lead to something akin to a "palace revolt" w/in the profession why have it at all? Look in addition to being unpopular not so much wrt message but to the method, this policy is duplicitous in that the Bar Ads introduce these concepts to prospective Ontario lawyers by way of the course itself and the call itself acts as the pledge by individual lawyers to treat clients, and the public at large, which is to say with candor and respect. Now if LSUC (The Society) wants to see its professionals engage in a more vigorous campaign and or adopt a specific set of social or political values that it has established, then it's going to have to step forward and say so. Sure it'll be accused to trying to politicize the bench however my sense is that we're already there given some of The Society's recent activities. Needless to say this is bad policy on the part of The Society. Its either meaningless as Hassan Ahmad suggests or its a naked attempt to politicize the Ontario Bar. Either way its a waste of time and The Society should drop it and spare the membership all of this unnecessary agro.
  • Statement of Principles now - soon, forced acknowledgement of white privilge

    Todd Senteniel
    The same Report convocation has relied on to force lawyers to write up a "statement of principles", also recommends that all lawyers acknowledge that "White Privilege" exists. If you don't believe me go look at the bottom of page 58 of the report. That's right folks: soon, if you refuse to acknowledge "white privilege", the Law Society can suspend you. The Thought Police walk among us.
  • Zealotry

    Stephen Scott
    Was it not obvious to Convocation that requiring such statements would be plausibly objected to on grounds that they are intrusive and coercive in terms of basic freedom of thought and expression? Are legal professionals to be required to chant mantras of ideological subservience? Is Convocation incapable of balance and restraint? Has it become a haven for wild-eyed zealotry?
  • Oppression by any other name

    These types of requirements smack of oppressive regimes of days gone. That they are being implemented for the new ideology of inclusiveness and tolerance is neither here nor there. It is not the ideas being 'promoted' that are the actual problem, the problem is the requirement that people adhere to it that is offensive to the greater issue of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. It is the medieval tone that truly offends. It hearkens to the days of the Spanish Inquisition and other dark periods of our history.
  • Cannot sign onto this nonsense

    Kirk Rintoul
    This goes beyond the power of our regulator. It violates freedom of expression. It requires us to publicly endorse a political position and a political project that is itself discriminatory. I won't be signing this and I urge others not to as well.
  • A simple concept

    The anti-discrimination provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code are not a "political position". They are the law. The LSUC is simply requiring that we all say, "Yes, as a lawyer I'm aware that I'm not allowed to discriminate against people, and I promise not to." If you can't sign on to that in good conscience, both your conscience and your understanding of your obligations to the legal system need a re-tooling. The LSUC isn't requiring you to say that you *like* not being allowed to discriminate. You're just not allowed to. Now write that down, stick it in your desk drawer, and move on already.
  • Outrageous and unacceptable

    Robert R.
    E.M. - Frankly you have misrepresented this requirement, which is actually a requirement that we as lawyers must actively agree with a cultural Marxist political ideology that might underly certain laws, and must declare that we do. It is an outrageous violation of our constitutional rights, a gross overreach by the LSUC, and a total dereliction of duty by the Benchers who voted for it. As others have pointed out, it even puts lawyers in a position where they might have to breach their fiduciary duties to clients when their "principles" prevent them from acting in accordance with the client's interests, even if the client's liberty is in peril. The Benchers who voted for this outrage need to go. Moreover, any lawyer who really supports this PC thought police nonsense against their own profession needs to quit the profession and find one for which they are more suited, like political agitator or prison guard.
  • ... the way the requirement is written is fairly benign

    Jim Hamilton
    ... "the way the requirement is written is fairly benign" ... such measures always are ... in the early stages. Only later, when the forced expression of opinion, belief and "principle" comes with actual sanctions do we look back and wonder how we got here.
  • Guardians no longer

    Tim Boyle
    Two things. Firstly your restatement of the requirement is a watered-down version of what is actually required which at its core requires a committment to a triplet of vague principles: equality, diversity, and inclusion. Secondly, it begs the question you raise: if this declaration is only to make clear what a lawyer's legal obligations already are, why do they not also require a commitment not to steal, murder, plunder or commit any of the other over 700 offenses set out in our criminal code and the dozens set forth in the lawyer code of conduct. But here again you mistate reality. This directive requires something beyond an oath to abide by the law; perniciously it requires all members to pledge allegiance to the underlying principles and policies that have given rise to these newly minted legal requirements. It's not a command to abide by the law but to the justification of those laws even if pledger may question the need for or wisdom of such laws - but not the need to abide by them. What's most disappointing with this directive is that it reveals that those who sould be regarded as the guardians at the gate i.e. lawyers of our civil and constitutional rights have instead cast themselves into the role as villians to those very rights and freedoms.
  • Bencher elections

    Which Benchers abstained? Which Benchers besides the ones named also argued against imposing this Statement of Principles? Which Benchers were the ones who "opposed voting on the recommendations on a piecemeal basis [...][as] the package did not go far enough"? I need to know to make a fully informed decision as to which Benchers I will vote for in the next election, which Benchers' campaigns I will fund, and which Benchers I will lobby against.

Law Times Poll

A group of benchers opposed to the Statement of Principles will need to win the support of their colleagues to repeal the requirement. Do you think they will be successful in repealing the statement of principles in the coming year?