A controversial new requirement introduced by the Law Society of Upper Canada to tackle widespread racism in the legal profession is now being challenged in court.
Under the new rule, lawyers and paralegals are required follow a personal “statement of principles” that enjoins them to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion” both generally as well as while interacting with the public, employees, clients and colleagues .
Critics of the requirement state that it is forcing lawyers to declare that they hold certain viewpoints. Calling it coerced speech, they claim that it violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Critics Call It “Orwellian” And File Legal Challenge
The legal challenge has been filed by Ryan Alford, who is an associate professor of law at Lakehead University. His petition with the Ontario Superior Court seeks that an injunction be passed to block the new requirement.
Alford noted that there was a need to understand whether such a rule was constitutional and also whether it was within the law society’s powers to introduce it.
Shawn Richard, the president of Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, called the new rule a starting point towards removing barriers, adding that it wasn’t coercing lawyers. He stated that the law society retained the right to require its members to conduct themselves in a certain fashion.
Richard also highlighted that the ‘statement of principles’ was in line with what lawyers already swear to in their mandatory oaths and follow in their professional obligations.
However several other lawyers including Alford opposing the rule say that it exceeds the authority of the law society and violates their constitutional rights.
Lawyers Need To Sign the Statement By End of 2017
- The statement of principles requirement was implemented this year, after being adopted last year
- Members have been reminded through emails of their obligation to sign it before the year-end.
- The statement can be individually written by the lawyers or they can use templates provided by the society
- The law society has made no mention of sanctions in cases of members failing to comply
Law Society’s Approach Wrong, But Objective Right Say Critics
According to those objecting to the new rule, the law society’s aim of fighting racial discrimination was good but approach was “problematic.”
Alford alleged that the society was acting lawlessly which was alarming. Another detractor, Howard Anglin, stated that forcing someone to demonstrate that they believe in certain values was “crossing the line.” He noted that such rules go into hearts’ of citizens which was not a place for governments.
Anglin is the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation which is funding Alford’s legal challenge.
Anglin and Alford have clarified that they are not opposed to the underlying principles of equality and diversity but are only against the forceful endorsements being made mandatory.
Supporters believe the Statement Of Principles Rule Can Help Change
Hadiya Roderique who has captured in a published essay the roadblocks encountered by her as a person of colour in the legal profession said she supported the ‘statement of principles’ rule. She pointed out that those opposing the rule may not realise the impact it could have.
Julian Falconer, a member of the law society’s committee that adopted the new requirement said that the court challenge won’t affect the ‘statement of principles’ rule, asserting that “real action is the order of the day.”