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Social media bullying sign of battle eroding law society’s soul | Cheryl Lean

Thursday, February 06, 2020 @ 9:06 AM | By Cheryl Lean

Last Updated: Thursday, February 06, 2020 @ 10:18 AM

Cheryl Lean %>
Cheryl Lean
If you read legal publications or spend time on Twitter, you may have heard that on Jan. 19, Nima Hojjati, the head of the Law Society of Ontario’s (LSO) Equity Advisory Group (EAG) tweeted that a bencher made a racist comment to him.

Naturally, his echo chamber unquestioningly poured scorn on this unnamed bencher, encouraged him to file a formal complaint and immediately began to speculate as to which bencher that might be. Of course, given the obvious animosity that his corner of Twitter has toward anyone associated with the StopSOP slate, the fingers pointed there first.

What he tweeted was that a bencher asked for his resignation from the EAG “[n]ot because of my work, but because they could tell that ‘I hate democracy by looking at me.’ ” He followed up in the same tweet: “I won’t resign because of the way I look. That’s sort of the point of equity.”

While he did not specifically claim the bencher was a racist, he didn’t have to. That’s clearly the subtext of his tweet and, since we must now immediately believe the “victim,” his tweet was, shockingly, retweeted by the law society’s purportedly objective Discrimination Harassment Counsel (DHC), as well as by another bencher and hosts of his followers. None concerned themselves with the veracity of the tweet. Why should the search for truth get in the way of a good narrative? (The DHC has since deleted the tweet.)

What you have not yet read is that I am the bencher who is alleged to have said such a hateful utterance.

I want you to hear my side of the story because it’s been nearly two weeks since Mr. Hojjati tweeted that he was considering making a complaint to the LSO but, as far as I know, no complaint has been made. His public cry of victimization and inaction leads me to believe that his tweet is a stunt to impugn the reputation of the LSO, and particularly the benchers on the slate, in order to advance his own personal and political agenda.

This is what actually occurred, as I recall it: On Jan. 16 there was a meeting of benchers in the form of an Indigenous “talking circle” to discuss concerns about the LSO’s equity policies. Mr. Hojjati was an invitee who was not only given the right to attend by the chairperson but also to speak in the circle, while elected benchers not on the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee were excluded from the circle and prevented from speaking or participating. Perhaps exclusion is the new “Inclusion.”

During the talking circle, Mr. Hojjati made clear his view that benchers have no democratic mandate and little legitimacy because the legal profession elects benchers to represent them on a regional basis akin to political ridings, rather than according to some electoral methodology of Mr. Hojjati’s own creation; and, in part, because Mr. Hojjati does not find that the voter turnout is acceptable.

As the bencher with the most votes of any elected bencher in Ontario, I found his comments to be ill-informed, insulting and not based on reliable evidence or sound rationale. Who does he think he is telling me I have no democratic legitimacy? The irony being that he was appointed by some mysterious cabal to wander around the law society pushing his narrow equity agenda, while I was elected to represent all members of the professions.

I challenged him about his spurious and unfounded assertions and told him that to his face in front of witnesses. Following the meeting, and to my surprise, Mr. Hojjati forcefully suggested that it was because of his skin colour that I dared challenge him. I told him that my challenge was to his logic, or lack thereof, and that contrary to his ridiculous assertion, my issues with him had nothing to do with the colour of his skin but his lack of serious character.

As I’ve discovered since the election, Mr. Hojjati’s default to ad hominem attacks is a familiar experience in disagreements at the law society. Motivated individuals, seeking to push a grievance agenda, manufacture outrage — often  followed by a mad dash to Twitter where the “victim” cries foul and wears their ordeal like some badge of honour, while managing to avoid any actual discussion which might involve being confronted with reasoned argument and facts.

This experience has convinced me that Mr. Hojjati and others have leveraged too much influence at the LSO by using social media bullying tactics, and I now understand why no one wants to stand up to them for fear of being labelled a racist on Twitter.

Over eight months have passed since the 2019 bencher elections. For those left in any doubt, there is a battle raging at Osgoode Hall for the very soul of the law society.

Cheryl Lean is a family lawyer in Picton County.

[Editor's note: This article was amended to correct a name spelling error.]

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