Nova Scotia

Halifax lawyer outlines plan to tackle systemic discrimination within barristers' society

A Halifax lawyer tasked with rooting out systemic discrimination within the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society says he's starting his work by looking for "embedded systems" that have become part of the organization's culture over time.

Douglas Ruck's review is expected to take up to 10 months to complete

Douglas Ruck is looking at systemic discrimination within the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society and providing recommendations to eliminate it. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

A Halifax lawyer tasked with rooting out systemic discrimination within the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society says he's starting his work by looking for "embedded systems" that have become part of the organization's culture over time.

"The law is in many respects, [it] looks back, we deal and we make our determinations based upon precedents, what has taken place in the past," Douglas Ruck told CBC's Information Morning. "This is a good example."

He said even basic law principles used by society members can be based in discrimination. For example, he used the "reasonable man" principle as an example.

"Who is, or what is this reasonable man?" Ruck asked.

In an April 14 statement on its website, the society said it appointed Ruck to conduct an independent review of its policies and processes.

Ruck says he wants to hear from a wide range of people as he carries out his work. (Submitted by Doug Ruck)

"Acknowledgement that systemic discrimination exists within the Society is a step towards improving how we protect the public interest," it said.

"It is only in accepting this truth that we can meaningfully begin the journey to improve our organization and the justice system."

Ruck has 10 months to complete his investigation and file a report.

He said a key issue that needs to be examined is what support is available for people of colour and other marginalized groups in the legal profession.

Ruck recalled an incident that happened to him earlier in his career when he was appointed as chair of the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Tribunal. 

He said a young white lawyer approached him as he was leaving court and asked why he had been appointed to the position when there were qualified white lawyers who should have the job.

Many voices sought

"Because sometimes the fear is if you raise these concerns, particularly [as a] young lawyer, that could be the end of your career just like that," Ruck said.

Ruck said he wants to hear from members of the bar, people who interact with the society on a regular basis, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, women, Indigenous communities and the Black Nova Scotian community, to help shape his recommendations.

"I'll be doing in the research, putting those voices together to come forward with recommendations to the society as to how society can begin to address race or discrimination within its own institution [and] at the same time, how it can determine that or ensure that that does not persist," he said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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With files from CBC's Information Morning

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