Thursday October 12, 2017

Law society's diversity policy 'most egregious' violation of freedom of speech: professor

The Law Society of Upper Canada has made it mandatory for all lawyers and paralegals to submit a 'Statement of Principles' attesting they value and promote equality, diversity and inclusion in their profession. Professor Bruce Pardy objects to what he calls 'an extraordinary proposition.'

The Law Society of Upper Canada has made it mandatory for all lawyers and paralegals to submit a 'Statement of Principles' attesting they value and promote equality, diversity and inclusion in their profession. Professor Bruce Pardy objects to what he calls 'an extraordinary proposition.' (Bruce Pardy )

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A report by the Law Society of Upper Canada which represents all Ontario lawyers and paralegals suggests Ontario's racialized law professionals suffer discrimination, at every stage in their careers.

As a result, Ontario's law society is taking action that is proving controversial. 

Related: Law Society's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategies 

Last month, all 58,000 members got an email from the society saying lawyers and paralegals need to submit a written "statement of principles" to the society outlining the legal workers' commitment to diversity and inclusion.

'This is about whether or not authorities can make you say what they want to hear regardless of whether the content is good or bad.' -  Bruce Pardy, member of the Law Society of Upper Canada

The mandatory submission doesn't sit well with professor Bruce Pardy, a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

"I got the email while I was eating lunch and it almost made me choke on my food," Pardy tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Complying to a statement of principles that Pardy calls "an extraordinary proposition" is in his opinion "the most egregious kind of violation of freedom of speech."

Related: Sample of Statement of Principles

"So for it to take place, not only in Canada but at the behest of the governing body of some of the legal profession is, is an extraordinary thing."

'The resistance that we are getting from this is coming from, quite frankly, white males who may not experience the same kind of discrimination that some of us in the profession who are racialized ... experience.' - Toronto lawyer Renatta Austin 

Pardy argues his objections aren't about disputing the substance and validity of the report or that "whether or not those particular ideas are valuable." 

"This is about whether or not authorities can make you say what they want to hear regardless of whether the content is good or bad, whether or not you approve or disapprove." 

Renatta Austin

Toronto lawyer Renatta Austin supports the diversity policy and says the statement of principles is merely just referencing 'existing obligations.' (C. J. Cromwell)

Toronto lawyer Renatta Austin has followed this issue closely and points to what she says  is a misunderstanding "in terms of what the law society is actually doing here."

"When someone seeks to join the legal profession in Ontario, we're already required to make declarations when we're called to the bar about our values and how we will conduct ourselves in our professional and personal lives."

Austin argues that the statement of principles isn't about the Law Society "trying to control our thoughts and tell us what to believe."

"It's a statement of principles acknowledging existing obligations."

Upholding human rights laws is already required, Austin tells Tremonti, and says principles enshrined within human rights include diversity and inclusion.

"The resistance that we are getting from this is coming from, quite frankly, white males who may not experience the same kind of discrimination that some of us in the profession who are racialized, who are members of different minority groups, experience," Austin explains.

"The Law Society's efforts to address this issue of systemic discrimination actually came from feedback, from members of the profession as well as from the public. This wasn't the Law Society just making a decision on its own to try to solve a problem that ...  doesn't exist."

Listen to the full segment including Janet Leiper, an elected governor of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Samira Mohyeddin, Pacinthe Mattar and Yamri Taddese.