LSUC statement of principles faces some backlash

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.

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.              



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