Dec 19, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

After establishing 13 recommendations aimed at addressing diversity and inclusion within the legal profession in Ontario last fall, law society working group Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees followed up with an email to the province’s lawyers and paralegals reminding them of the mandate to provide a statement that “acknowledges (their) obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in (their) behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.” 

The result? “One of the most divisive topics in that profession this year,” according to the Toronto Star. Here’s a closer look at the issue. 

About the Controversy

The email triggered a flurry of responses from lawyers throughout Toronto. Their claim? That the requirement to include such a statement of principles on their annual reports violates freedom of expression. One law professor is even seeking an injunction to stop it, while the requirement will also be challenged at the next law society board meeting.

Voiced opposer Murray Klippenstein, “It looks like what started out as a laudable effort by the law society to address racism has morphed, at least in Rec. 3 (1), into something else — into me and thousands of other lawyers in Ontario being forced to adopt what sounds like someone else’s political ideology.” 

In Defense of Justice

Meanwhile, supporters of the statement of principles say the move is necessary for the promotion of a more inclusive profession -- one that’s more representative of Canada’s diverse population.

Toronto lawyer Tina Lie told The Star, “People seem to consider the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion as being an issue of political belief or political speech. I don’t see it that way. I actually think it goes to the core of the administration of justice. If we want to improve the administration of justice, we absolutely need to advance the diversity goal that the law society has put out there. The reality is, when you look at it, the legal profession, the justice system and the judiciary, they don’t actually reflect the communities they are supposed to serve.”

Added Avvy Go, working group member and clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, “It’s a sad state of affairs for our profession if lawyers cannot even acknowledge that they have an obligation to treat clients and peers as equals.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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