LSUC should encourage discussion, real change on issue of diversity

By Staff

Requiring legal professionals to sign a statement of principles on diversity won’t change the issues racialized licensees face in the profession — instead, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) should focus on encouraging real change, Toronto-area civil litigator Darryl Singer tells The Lawyer’s Daily.

As the article notes, the LSUC brought its new statement of principles requirement forward after a study on Ontario’s legal profession revealed systemic racism. According to the LSUC, the statement is meant to encourage licensees to acknowledge their responsibility to promote equality in the profession and is now a part of the regulator's annual reporting requirements.

However, the law society is seeing pushback over the issue which will be brought to Convocation on Dec. 1 by way of a notice of motion, filed by an LSUC bencher, that moves that licensees who have a conscientious objection to the statement should be exempt from adopting one.

Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation, tells The Lawyer’s Daily that he has also been receiving calls about the statement of principles.

“I’ve been contacted just in the last week by three different lawyers all of whom have said ‘I am not going to sign the statement of principles. I want to know if you will represent me if I get disciplined,’” he says.

In principle, Singer says he is opposed to the requirement to sign a statement, even though he has decided he will comply with the annual reporting obligation.

“First of all, I think it is unnecessary,” he says. “As the owner of a law firm I am obligated in three different ways to ensure that I do not discriminate or harass in any way.

"I am obligated first and foremost as a licensee of the law society. I’m bound by the rules of professional conduct. I’m already bound not to discriminate and harass based on that. That applies to all lawyers, whether you’re a law firm owner or not.

"Number two, as a business owner it goes even further. I am also bound by the Employment Standards Act. I’m also bound by the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

Ultimately, Singer says he believes the statement of principles won’t change the issues racialized licensees face in the legal profession and simply signing a document won’t alter people’s behaviour.

“I would like to see more fulsome discussion with the profession where they [the law society] say ‘look, we know we have an issue. We’ve done this big, fancy report.’ The report has told us what everybody knew,” he says, adding that racism and discrimination in the legal profession were apparent before the report was released.

The statement of principles feels like lip service says Singer. He would rather see the law society promote real change in the profession.

“I’d like to see them encourage small- and medium-size firms, give some sort of subsidy to say, ‘We want you to take articling students who are in a minority group who have trouble getting traditional articles and we’ll subsidize your firm’s costs in hiring those people,’ ” he says.

The law society should also look at the bigger picture when investigating racialized licensees for disciplinary reasons.

When the investigators that discipline counsel are dealing with racialized licensees who are in trouble, he says, "they could start thinking about alternate ways of dealing with the matter as opposed to just the traditional ‘Okay, we’re going to go through this investigation. We’re going to discipline you. We’re going to suspend you.'

"They can start recognizing that in some instances there are cultural elements or there are other things that are playing into the trouble that this person is in and maybe we’re going to come up with some alternate ways of dealing with it,” says Singer.

However, Singer explains that the problem with his suggestions is that they’re expensive and harder to measure, while a statement of principles is easier for the law society to chart.

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