Opinion: LSUC Statement of Principles – A Step in the Right Direction
1L Dennis Do Gives His Two-Cents on the Law Society's Statement of Principles
The Law Society of Upper Canada recently added a policy called “Statement of Principles,” requiring lawyers and paralegals to “acknowledge their obligation to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion.” What seems like a noble cause has fuelled one of our own faculty members, Professor Bruce Pardy, to publish an opinion piece criticizing the decision in the National Post. His view raises a lot of questions and especially exemplifies how legal reasoning can trump sensible policymaking.
The context and purpose of the newly added policy are paramount in understanding its role; the Law Society is trying to resolve inequality and racial discrimination among legal professionals, a specific problem in the legal community. This is a reactive countermeasure, promoting equality and diversity in defence of minorities. Its intent is incomparable to dictatorial regimes enforcing subjective doctrines to maintain power (the Law Society has opted for letters over bullets to deal with dissenters). It’s also difficult to imagine what other institution will bring about this change—the Law Society’s role as a self-governing body almost gives it a moral obligation to police legal professionals.
According to Pardy’s interpretation, the “Statement of Principles” intrudes on lawyers’ freedom of expression, as protected by section 2(b) of the Charter. But what about section 27 that protects multiculturalism and heritage? Can we give one section more respect over another? Of course the Charter can’t be interpreted to mean that the Law Society should be able to enforce certain values upon lawyers, but this is not what the law society is trying to do. What the Law Society is trying to do is to preserve and enhance racial diversity and equality against people infringing upon them, which is certainly in line with the Charter.
Furthermore, racial discrimination isn’t the only barrier lawyers face. Three years ago The Globe and Mail highlighted the problems faced by gay lawyers on Bay Street in an article called “What it’s like to be gay on Bay Street”. In it the author, Tim Kiladze, specifically mentions the difficulty of revealing their homosexuality in corporate settings, including law firms, and interviewees even explicitly stated that they were lucky to work for firms supportive of their orientation. There is a clear issue in this profession and it’s quite astounding that we haven’t worked these things out in 2017.
Skeptics may say that the policy won’t have a practical effect and that’s it’s only a pro forma document. However, these statements provide a foundational basis in recognizing equality, diversity, and inclusion. It’s difficult to say that an average employer on Bay Street will hire a Ms. Lee over a Mr. Smith if their competencies were the same—let’s face it, that’s the reality. Although this new policy may not have an immediate effect, it provides a substantive avenue for minorities in getting some protection from discrimination.
The benefits extend beyond mere workplace and employment. Canada is a country with rule of law. Our legal system requires faith in it to function properly; without faith, it falters to nothing but abstract words on paper. This very faith rests heavily upon our lawyers as they are the people we contact when we get speeding tickets, homes, or new businesses. The Law Society’s new emphasis on equality, diversity, and inclusion should renew citizens’ faith in the legal professionals and in turn the rule of law.
Racial discrimination and inequality are opposite to the legal professionals’ fundamental character. During the first week of law school we were told that we have a key role in improving people’s access to justice. We have a duty to provide legal services even to those unable to afford it and to give back to the community. We weren’t told to distinguish which associates or partners we are to work with based on race. We also weren’t told to accept or reject clients and fellow members based on race.
As citizens, we don’t have an obligation to agree with the law or the way our courts apply them. However, we must not limit the bounds of good policies by imposing legal frameworks in a formalistic manner; doing so overshadows the sensible approach and benefits afforded by policymaking. We should support the Law Society in its new endeavour with the hope that it will improve our society and strengthen justice. After all, all lawyers were law students once and learned about their role as administers of justice—including Professor Pardy.
Dennis Do is a 1L.