Much Weighs on the Outcome of the Ontario Law Society Election
The 10-day online election of the Law Society of Ontario “benchers”—the board of directors that sets policy and determines other matters related to the governance of Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals—will draw to a close on April 28. Forty benchers will be elected, 20 from Toronto and 20 from other regions. The importance of this particular election for members of the legal profession—and even, potentially, their clients—cannot be overstated.
The battle for the LSO’s soul began in December 2016, when the regulator imposed a “Statement of Principles” (SOP) on its members, which forced them to adopt and abide by a mandatory statement acknowledging their “obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.” Related measures passed at the same time as the SOP required law firms with 10 or more lawyers to complete and file with the LSO the results of an “inclusion self-assessment.” Firms with over 25 lawyers would have those results published by the LSO.
It is one thing for the LSO to require that their members treat individual colleagues and clients with respect and decorum befitting their profession. It is quite another to demand that they actively “promote” in word and deed—that is, in hiring practice—an ideologically dictated and centrally planned agenda, a demand so utterly beyond any regulatory body’s scope in a free society as to inflict, in Conrad Black’s words, “an insane and unenforceable burden” on its professionals.
Most licensees complied. But a core group recognized the danger SOP represented, amongst them Queens law professor Bruce Pardy, now on leave, and executive director of Rights Probe, an organization created to “defend and promote the classical liberal conception of individual rights and the rule of law.” Pardy laid out the sobering implications of SOP for lawyers in a 2017 National Post op-ed: “Had this requirement been imposed upon another of the governed professions, nurses say, or engineers, they would hire a lawyer to protect their right to think and speak for themselves. This time, it is the lawyers themselves whose ability to argue about the law’s propriety is threatened.”
Resistance to the LSO’s metastic mission creep coalesced quickly, resulting in StopSOP, a robust oppositional benchers slate for the 2019 election. All 22 StopSOP candidates were elected in a resounding victory, enough to ensure the SOP hit a wall, but not enough to ensure the LSO’s return to neutrality.
So this election is a lynchpin round two. Both sides are more deeply entrenched in their positions today than they were in 2019. The StopSOP movement is now a FullStop band of brothers and sisters. In a video posted on the FullStop website, several of the candidates articulate their concerns.
Sayeh Hassan, for example, executive director of Charter Advocates, whose legal team acts pro bono in support of constitutional rights, fled Iran at the age of 7 with her parents, the family choosing Canada for its freedoms and gender equality. Now she is troubled by a politicized environment that punishes people who “don’t go along with what the majority think is the appropriate way of being.” Hassan says she knows minority women who would have liked to join the FullStop slate, but “were too afraid of being cancelled.” Andrej Litvinjenko, a lawyer specializing in infrastructure and corporate governance, expresses grave concerns about the LSO’s trend to surveillance of “the kinds of folks we can represent or interact with.”
FullStop’s website provides its complete platform, where the LSO is portrayed as a bloated and complacent organization with transparency deficits. The CEO’s salary, for instance, is a closely guarded secret. The FullStop benchers have pledged to remove blanket confidentiality from committees that keep this information under wraps.
Eight former treasurers of the LSO published an open letter in which they accuse their opponents of creating “a polarized and fractious forum that too often descends into incivility.” The FullStoppers characterize this alleged incivility as robust debate. The former treasurers furthermore charge the FullStop slate with “embrac[ing] a libertarian ideology that would pare down the LSO’s functions and read down its mandate to govern in the public interest.” This is rhetorical flailing. Libertarianism is not an “ideology”; it is a political philosophy. And the accusers can have no way of knowing who of the FullStoppers “embraces” it, since—irony alert—candidates were not compelled to submit their philosophical convictions for admissibility vetting.
As for governing “in the public interest,” these are empty words in this context. All illiberal authority figures who sacrifice the freedom rights of citizens on the altar of ideological dogmas claim they are acting in the public interest. The late Alan Borovoy, former general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, once said that the greatest threat to liberty “is not evil wrongdoers seeking to do harm, but parochial bureaucrats seeking to do good.” And that is the case here.
If the FullStop slate does not win, the LSO’s woke agenda will not only restore the 2016 mandate, but will go further. Incorporating the substance of the SOP into the Rules of Professional Conduct, auditing and publishing the racial makeup of firms with more than 25 lawyers, and requiring licensees to take compulsory re-education programs in “diversity, equity and inclusion” are on their to-do list. New regulatory powers could make “re-education” mandatory, “even where discipline is unwarranted.”
This could result in lawyers being subjected to the same public chastisement and directive toward “re-training” meted out to celebrity gadfly Jordan Peterson, with no due process, by the College of Psychologists of Ontario on the basis of anonymous complaints, a deviation from their mandate so egregious as to arouse national and international condemnation. Because the LSO proposes to give its Proceedings Authorization Committee the power to require lawyers to submit to re-education—even if the committee concludes that there are no grounds for a disciplinary hearing. Failure to comply will itself constitute professional misconduct.
For the final word, I reached out to FullStop front-liner Lisa Bildy of Libertas Law (“Defending Canadians’ civil liberties in the courtroom and beyond”), for her assessment of this pivotal moment.
“Those who disagreed with the Statement of Principles, and who want to openly debate policies at the Law Society, are being characterized as illegitimate or unfit to govern,” she responded. “The idea that there is only one correct worldview is dangerous. The public needs lawyers to be fearless advocates, not censorious activists. The only way these tendencies can be moderated is for lawyers, the guardians of the constitution and the freedoms it proclaims, to embrace the ideals on which our legal system was built.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.