In a nutshell, why should lawyers be concerned about the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) directive from Law Society of Ontario?
- It diminishes our independence as a profession and compromises our independence as lawyers to impartially represent our clients.
- It compels individual lawyers to adopt and promote a mandated set of personal values (Statement of Principles) prescribed by our Regulator in disregard of the Charter freedoms of thought, belief, opinion, expression, conscience, and religion.
- It requires an acceptance of, and agreement with, the Law Society's determination that there is "Systemic Racism" in the legal profession in Ontario.
- It requires all lawyers in Ontario to cooperate with the advancement of an "Accelerated Culture Shift" as defined, implemented, and monitored by the Law Society of Ontario.
Who is behind this website?
We are a group of Ontario lawyers who are concerned about the Law Society of Ontario's EDI initiative, particularly the requirement of a Statement of Principles. Each of us has unique perspectives, backgrounds, political and religious views, but we all agree that it is a flawed directive that should be withdrawn.
What is the point of this website?
We know that lawyers are busy and that many have not yet delved into the EDI issue; or, perhaps they feel it is safer to simply go along with the Law Society's new requirements even if they have misgivings about them. Our goals for this website are therefore two-fold:
First, we want to provide a resource for our colleagues to quickly get up to speed on EDI concerns and be able to readily access more detailed analyses as desired. We intend to continue adding resources to this site, so please check back periodically.
Second, although many lawyers have spoken out against these new obligations, it is hard to know if there is enough pushback to make any difference. By advertising our site and asking Ontario legal professionals to click on our "Stop SOP" icon to have their opinion counted, we can then show the Law Society (hopefully) that a large segment of the profession does not support this initiative.
Why should I be concerned about drafting a Statement of Principles that no one is even going to see?
Cognitive dissonance is a good reason. If you sign a document knowing that you do not agree with it, you act against your own conscience. Freedom of conscience is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If lawyers can be compelled to sign a 'loyalty pledge' against their own conscience, what hope does anyone else have to preserve the right to freedom of conscience? It becomes meaningless. Furthermore, how can lawyers be called upon to defend rights which they have, in effect, already abrogated or, at least, limited?
Even if you agree wholeheartedly with the EDI initiative, it should give you pause that you can be forced to sign a statement of belief in order to preserve your livelihood. This is akin to the sort of thing which has occurred in China where, since 2012, lawyers have been forced to sign a pledge of allegiance to the Communist Party in order to practice law.
Isn't this just requiring us to acknowledge reasonable duties that we are already expected to uphold, namely not to discriminate?
It is correct that we have a duty not to discriminate on prohibited grounds, but there is no positive legal duty to promote equality, diversity and inclusion. The Law Society is effectively forcing lawyers to do something which it has no legal basis to require. The (now removed from their website) supplementary materials on the Statement of Principles indicate that lawyers must "demonstrate a personal valuing of equality, diversity, and inclusion," which makes it apparent that the Law Society intends to regulate thought as much as action.
Given that 'equality' can mean many different things, and that its pursuit is often ideologically driven, this is not merely about ridding the profession of any lingering racial discrimination – a goal with which we think reasonable people would not take issue. Since the Law Society has already voted to extend its EDI recommendations to "other equality-seeking groups" without bothering with the pretense of requiring evidence of discrimination, or without even defining those groups, we might be forgiven for thinking that we are dealing more with ideology than with the solving of actual problems.
What impact will the Statement of Principles have on the general public and our relationship with clients or prospective clients?
Shakespeare didn't write, "First we kill all the lawyers" because they were over-billing. As the famous remark in King Henry VI shows, lawyers have always stood as the last line of defence against tyranny, and as guardians of independent thought. The public is watching us to see if this still holds true.
Consider also the issue of impartiality that is essential to both lawyers and judges. Ask yourself, how can a citizen who has run afoul of the increasingly broad human rights codes expect to have a fair hearing, if his or her own lawyer has said that he or she is a promoter of the EDI initiative (and the ideological thrust that this implies)? How does a person of colour trust the system to defend their interests completely, when everyone involved has sworn a statement acknowledging their systemic racism? How does a judge, who filed such a statement as a lawyer, demonstrate objectivity on the bench?
Do I have a choice not to prepare a Statement of Principles?
When you file your Annual Report (due by March 31, 2018), you are asked to declare "that I abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public." You may check Yes or No. In the following box, you can provide a reason such as, "I object to this requirement in principle and believe it to be unconstitutional."
What are the consequences of not doing so?
If you do not do so, the Law Society has said that it will merely send reminder letters out this year, although it is not ruling out applying other penalties for non-compliance in future years.
Since there are minimal consequences this year, it is extremely important that as many lawyers as possible push back now.
What if I believe there is still some racial inequality in the profession, but I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of forced speech? I don't want to be associated with people who are racists.
Not a single lawyer contributing to this website condones racism or wants to see a homogenous profession. Lawyers opposing EDI come from a variety of backgrounds, ethnic groups, political and religious perspectives. We are united in being against compelled speech and the abrogation of freedom of belief and conscience. We are concerned that the EDI initiative is largely ideologically-driven and not based on particularly compelling evidence that would befit the expectations anyone would have of the legal profession.
What do you recommend that I do, as a concerned legal professional in Ontario?
- Refuse to prepare the mandated Statement of Principles. Push back while you can do so with little consequence.
- Let your colleagues know you are doing so by joining our list of lawyers (this can be done anonymously, although we encourage you to add your name). There is strength and courage in numbers --- no one wants to feel like they are going against the grain, and particularly not alone.
- Spread the word. Our website address is www.stopsop.ca
Where can I get more information?
We have prepared some essays on areas of concern with the EDI initiative. These may include hyperlinks to further resources, which will open separate tabs on your screen so that you can easily work through any of the issues as time and interest permit.
- On the compulsion of individual lawyers to adopt and promote a mandated set of personal values (Statement of Principles) prescribed by our Regulator in violation of the Charter freedoms of thought, belief, opinion, expression, conscience, and religion.
View this essay.
- On the evidence for the Law Sociey's determination that there is "Systemic Racism" in the legal profession in Ontario.
View this essay.
- On the requirement to cooperate with the advancement of a "Culture Shift" as defined, implemented, and monitored by the Law Society of Ontario.
View this essay.
Are there other resources I should consider?
The editorial boards of both national newspapers, as well as various opinion columnists, have condemned the Law Society's initiative. You may wish to review these links if you haven't already done so:View Our Recommended Links