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Rules of civility

Editorial Obiter

There has been widespread commentary on the so-called death of civility in the modern age.

These lamentations often refer to an amorphous golden age — a kinder, gentler time when diverging opinions, even on matters of pressing public policy, did not mean a lack of thoughtful dialogue or mutual respect.

The idea of the death of civility has been driven, in part, by the sometimes jaw-dropping statements some people will share in forums such as social media.

As opinions polarize, people can struggle with affording others basic respect, through simple behaviours such as hearing others out, staying away from name-calling and allowing others to express themselves fully.

Lawyers and judges are celebrated in wider society for the rules that govern their behaviour with each other and their roles as guides to non-lawyers in navigating problems that arise. And issues around free speech — and the sense of how to express oneself in a civil manner — have never been more prevalent.

In this issue of Law Times, we report on how Ontario’s new anti-SLAPP legislation has been tested in the Court of Appeal, with six rulings released last week, four of which were deemed SLAPP lawsuits. The purpose of the anti-SLAPP legislation is to encourage public dialogue and to stop litigation that tries to quell public discourse. There are feature stories on alternative dispute resolution, which highlight less adversarial ways people can navigate their legal troubles and explain new forums where legal issues can be negotiated or determined.

In life, we will encounter people who think and act differently than we do. While I do not endorse every action of the late U.S. senator John McCain, I admire his friendship with former vice president Joe Biden. While the two dedicated their lives to opposing political parties, they both agreed that they would not attack each other on the campaign trail or when hammering out issues in the Senate. In fact, they sometimes sat next to each other — to the chagrin of some of the leaders of their respective caucuses. In plain terms — or as a Canadian Indigenous leader puts it — they agreed to come back and sit at the same table.

That’s the basic contract of civility. To sit, to listen, to speak with respect, even when we diverge.

It’s a code everyone can use, which is far from dead.


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