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Law society SOP in historical context | Sam Goldstein

Friday, April 26, 2019 @ 11:58 AM | By Sam Goldstein


Sam Goldstein %>
Sam Goldstein
The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) is clarifying what it means by its Statement of Principles (SOP) with a motion to be voted on May 8, 2019, after the bencher election.

The preamble to the motion calls on the law society to acknowledge that:

a) The Statement of Principles is intended to promote reflection, and not to impose any belief;

b) Any requirements from the Statement of Principles are only intended to refer to existing legal and professional obligations;

c) There is no prescribed form for the Statement of Principles;

d) Licensees will not be suspended or penalized for failing to have a Statement of Principles; and,

e) No licensee will ever have the content of their Statement of Principles subject to scrutiny by the law society, through an auditor or other means.

Keep in mind that since Dec. 2, 2016, when Convocation adopted the recommendations in the Final Report by the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group, the profession has been told we must adopt a SOP to address the “systematic racism” in the profession.

When Michael Minear and a group of lawyers launched a Stop SOP website questioning the requirement because it offended the Charter’s right against compellable speech he was vilified. Paul Shabas, then treasurer of the LSO, told Canadian Lawyer the opposition to the SOP was nothing more than “anonymous advocacy that seems to want to deny that there is a problem in the profession.”

The LSO doubled down with its support for a SOP by voting against a Dec. 1, 2017, amendment asking for a conscientious objection clause. The LSO drew a line in the sand from which there would be no retreat from requiring all members of the legal profession “to adopt and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in their behaviour toward colleagues, employees, clients and the public.”

Raj Anand, the bencher who co-chaired the working group recommending the SOP explained to the Law Times the SOP is “an important part of larger initiatives to battle systemic racism in the profession.” The Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, the Ontario Bar Association, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, and the Roundtable of Diversity Association all attended Convocation in December to speak against the amendment.

Despite all the foregoing, the proposal on May 8 is a clear retreat from the LSO’s line in the sand no less significant than Nikita Khrushchev’s about-face when he turned his Cuban-bound fleet around in the face of John F. Kennedy’s naval blockade and no less welcomed by many licensees.

It is not the threat of nuclear attack this time that saved the day, but the logical force of op-eds by professors Bruce Pardy and Ryan Alford explaining why the SOP is compelled speech. Most of the legal profession did not like being told what to think. SOP opponents were greatly assisted when the legal profession got a good look at this year’s annual report prying into our personal lives.

Judging by the behaviour on social media by SOP supporters, they are sensing Armageddon for themselves come May 1, 2019, when the bencher election results are announced. Undoubtably the strength of the SOP as an effective weapon to combat the alleged “systemic racism” in the legal profession came with its hard requirement of compellable speech. To backtrack on that singular fact is to reduce the SOP’s effectiveness.

The SOP supporters can’t have it both ways. Whether the legal profession will be fooled by this 11th hour attempt to save the SOP is to be determined.

Sam Goldstein is a Toronto criminal lawyer. You can e-mail him at sam@samgoldstein.ca, follow him @Willweargloves or visit www.samgoldstein.ca.

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