The Current

Law Society report suggests ways to end systemic racism in legal professions

Last week The Current heard from more than one lawyer who said some of the biggest challenges they face are to do with race rather than law. Today, we follow up on the discrimination that non-white lawyers face in our justice system.
Janet Leipert, co-chair of the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees working group, with the Law Socoety of Upper Canada. (reelectjanetleiper.com)

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On Sept. 13, The Current convened a panel to discuss the experience of discrimination that non-white lawyers can face in the justice system.

Katherine Hensel, a lawyer from the Shuswap Nation, tells Tremonti that at least five times in the past few years -- she was told by court staff to get out of the line reserved for lawyers in the courtroom.

"I believe as a visibly Indigenous person in a place where there are no Indigenous lawyers, that it's inconceivable to court staff that I'm appearing as counsel," says Hensel.

Today the Law Society of Upper Canada's working group on the challenges faced by racialized lawyers will be presenting its final report and recommendations to its board. The group wants the regulatory body to take action towards eradicating systemic racism in the legal profession and ensure law firms and other legal workplaces play a role.

It's an educational process.- Janet Leiper on implementing Law Society's working group report

Janet Leiper, co-chair of Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees working group, tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti the findings in their study were not shocking.

"We unfortunately weren't surprised because it was consistent with the experience of many... people in our working group from a racialized background, who are able to say to us we could have written this report before you did the study."

The reported states that 50 per cent of the people they surveyed feel that they need to perform at higher standard because of racial stereotypes and 40 per cent said that their race is a barrier to enter into practice.

"What we're trying to accomplish here is to create a supportive culture among lawyers and paralegals so that even if if I'm there with co-counsel and I see something happening I'm going to speak up," says Leiper.

"It's an educational process. We see it as a developmental process, and hopefully it will permeate through the whole justice system because that's where many of us do our work. Right there in court every day."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and John Chipman.

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