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Statement-of-principles supporters rally ahead of key vote

Benchers plan to attend pro-SOP equity-group gathering
|Written By Anita Balakrishnan
Statement-of-principles supporters rally ahead of key vote
Atrisha Lewis will attend an event for supporters of the Law Society of Ontario’s statement of principles requirement.

Several benchers will attend an event next week for supporters of the Law Society of Ontario’s statement of principles requirement.

Benchers Robert Burd, Julian Falconer and Atrisha Lewis will attend a June 10 meeting held at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP by a group called #DemandInclusion, the organizers said in an email reminding its more than 60 members to RSVP by June 7.

The #DemandInclusion meeting, which is closed to the public, comes ahead of a key June 27 Convocation meeting for the law society’s board of benchers. A motion to repeal the statement of principles requirement is planned for June 27’s meeting, law society leader Malcolm Mercer told Law Times on May 31.

The law society’s board was elected in a vote that ended April 30, and most lawyers who won do not support the required statement of principles— a document lawyers must write pledging their support of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Lewis says she isn’t an organizer of the #DemandInclusion group but will attend on June 10 to show her support for keeping the statement of principles as a law society requirement.

“The law society has a mandate to regulate within the public interest. I think fundamental to that mandate is that ensuring that our profession reflects society at large,” says Lewis. “Our clients are diverse. And if we, as a profession, are unable to understand that and be thoughtful in our approach to law with diversity and inclusion in mind, then I don’t think we are doing our jobs as lawyers and paralegals.”

Lewis says the purpose of the statement of principles has gotten lost in the debate over the election, and supporters need to bring that discussion back to the forefront.

“What we’ve seen is the Stop-SOP slate has reclaimed the moral imperative with respect to the statement of principles,” she says. “The statement of principles came to be in 2016 as part of a package of recommendations after a thorough and significant consultation by the law society. [Stop SOP] really is an attack on equity and diversity initiatives. That’s why it’s important, especially when those who oppose it and seek to repeal don’t propose an alternative measure.”

The fight over the statement of principles may come to a head this month, but Lewis says that the benchers opposing it are here to stay for the next four years, which means advocates of diversity and inclusion must stay organized.

“[Stop SOP’s] huge tactical advantage is that they are lean and organized,” says Lewis. “I think it’s great the #DemandInclusion group has been created. They have energy and they can keep coordinating the pro-SOP movement.”

A particular aspect of the debate that may persist past June 27 is the debate around what is — and is not — within the law society’s mandate. Chi-Kun Shi, a lawyer opposed to the statement of principles who is running against Mercer for the role of treasurer, has told Law Times that the LSO “had become distant and elite and oblivious to the views of its members.”

Lewis says that critics of the LSO’s equity-related initiatives should take a look at the budget, which she says includes a “negligible” amount for diversity-related projects.

The LSO’s 2019 budget says it expects a $500,000 reduction in continuing professional development revenue, partially caused by free equity, diversity and inclusion events. The draft budget says continuing to address the challenges faced by racialized licensees will come from “existing resources” at no incremental cost. The equity initiatives staff has expenses of $1.5 million, out of a total budget of $142.5 million for 2019.

“I think it’s troubling when people cite costs as a reason to roll back equity and diversity initiatives,” she says.

  • Demand inclusion without demanding SOP

    Anne Vespry
    Arguably, it's even more troubling when a regulator cites warm fuzzy feelings of inclusion as the supporting reason for adding to the regulatory burden on its licensees. There are good arguments for some of the 13 Recommendations that came out of the discussion of racism in the profession. There are also ironies such as the LS forcing licensees to engage in "inclusion surveys" while never actually (as promised in recommendation 13) concluding or publishing the results of its own survey of Benchers. And there's the SOP ... The only possible reason I can imagine at this point for keeping a mandatory SOP is that one wishes to watch some unfortunate lawyer attempt to mount a section 1 defense of the SOP. The sheer amount of time, energy, and explanatory text the LS has produced to date, strikes me as an implicit admission that the SOP requirement is too vague to be comprehensible. I'm also perplexed at the idea of the LS developing a persuasive argument for rational connection in circumstances where they have also stated that the SOP requirement may not, or is not ever (depending on the speaker), going to be enforced. As a Bencher I argued that the SOP should be removed from the Recommendations before they were passed. After they were passed I argued, as seconder of Mr. Groia's motion, that the SOP requirement should recognize and exempt conscientious objectors. Were I a Bencher still, I'd hope that the society could find a resolution where the SOP would be an option open to licensees ... no regulator should mandate something like an SOP, and quite frankly, no regulator should prohibit one either. Regulators need to do a good job ensuring that licensees follow professional rules, and their legal obligations including the Ontario Human Rights Code. Beyond that? A licensee's principles -- much like their New Year's resolutions -- should be theirs to make, or not. To write down, or not. To follow ... or not.

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