We’re concerned about mission creep at the Law Society. Ever-increasing rules, requirements, and red tape burden practitioners. And the overreach is not just bureaucratic but political. We want the Law Society to competently do what is required by statute (and yes, that includes the dreaded spot audits). But it should not be a vehicle for pet projects or ideological agendas.
“The SOP is dead. Long live EDI measures!”
While candidates running on the big governance coalition (BGC) have distanced themselves from the Statement of Principles (SOP), it’s not because they agree that it was divisive and ideological. It’s just politically expedient now.
The SOP was one small part of a transformative regulatory agenda adopted in December 2016. That agenda includes publicly ranking law firms for their “inclusiveness” and incorporating the SOP into the Rules of Professional Conduct. The BGC candidates haven’t disavowed the rest of this package – indeed, they appear to embrace it.
All candidates on the BGC who sat as benchers in September 2019 voted against repealing the SOP, and almost all who were present at the December 2016 Convocation voted in favour of the SOP, along with the rest of the agenda. The only exception then was Sid Troister, who abstained; however, he later voted against repealing the SOP in 2019.
You may hear members of the big governance coalition saying that the Inclusion Index (a race and gender audit) is gone now too, just like the SOP – but don’t be misled. As was made clear at last June’s Convocation (starting at the 1:00 mark), it is only being reworked and will be released again, possibly with a different name, when the coast is clear.
Tools for Enforcement
New regulatory powers have recently been proposed which would provide another tool for ideological enforcement. The Proceedings Authorization Committee (PAC), which decides whether complaints and investigations should be sent to the disciplinary tribunal, would get the power to order lawyers and paralegals to take (re-)education programs even where there are no reasonable and probable grounds for discipline. This "remediation" may be made public, without input from the licensee.
The PAC already has the power to propose education as an alternative to discipline. Licensees are entitled to accept or reject it. That option is what they want to eliminate. They want to give the power to the PAC to make re-education mandatory, even where discipline is unwarranted. You can see the risks. This power will be used to publicly chastise lawyers or paralegals for conduct or speech unrelated to their practice. The College of Psychologists of Ontario is currently using similar powers in its attempt to publicly rebuke Dr. Jordan Peterson for his Twitter comments, based on complaints from people who were not his clients but did not like his political opinions. Other professional regulators are going down this road as well. They are becoming weaponized to punish and “correct” dissent. These are especially dangerous trends for lawyers: the independence of the bar is an essential cornerstone of the rule of law. Lawyers must be able to vigorously defend their clients and are the last line of defence against powerful state actors.
As the stranglehold grows within our institutions, independent-minded people who might remedy this overreach are discouraged from governance roles using “codes of conduct” (which are invariably applied only against them), ideological litmus tests (like EDI statements), and public shaming and ostracization. This is happening in our own regulator and in this very campaign.
Consider the language being used by BGC candidates and even the Treasurer herself against our team, half of whom are new candidates they have never even met. They say we are “unfit” to govern. If we’re “unfit” to be benchers, are we also “unfit” to be lawyers? Are you “unfit” if you voted for us?
Do you really want people who think this way sitting as the gatekeepers to the profession, especially with new powers to compel your “re-education”?
Politicizing the LSO Causes Dysfunction & Incivility
Our opponents like to pretend that the StopSOP/FullStop benchers are the cause of dysfunction and incivility at Convocation. But the record shows that it was dysfunctional before we arrived. This is what happens when you let identity politics and ideology in the door of what should be a neutral institution.
The late professor Arthur Cockfield of Queen’s Law School wrote a piece about the bullying that went on in Convocation in 2016 to ensure “unanimous” support for the transformative regulatory agenda comprised of 13 EDI measures (p. 14). This troubling and divisive period of Convocation began before StopSOP was even an idea.
During the last campaign, we received a barrage of nasty comments, slurs and media hits for opposing the SOP. Before our candidates first entered Convocation, former establishment bencher Michael Lerner said in the Toronto Sun that a group of “right-wing, fundamentalist, religious fanatics” had taken over the Law Society. Our pluralistic group, which included atheists, Buddhists, left-leaning liberals and an old-school NDP’er, was thus branded as a bunch of heretics. Mr. Lerner has just published a rant in the Middlesex Law Association newsletter, without an iota of self-reflection, condemning our team for “the disrespect, rancour and intolerance that has been demonstrated by this group on a regular basis in Convocation.” Projection perhaps?
There was just one “party” at Convocation before we arrived. And the establishment big governance crowd would really like to get those uncivil people who ask too many questions out of the way. They have equated "civility" with “acquiescence.”
Voting as a Bloc
The BGC tells us that they are all independent and won’t vote as a bloc. Their track record shows otherwise. An analysis of the recorded votes (roll calls only) over the last four years demonstrates that members of the BGC sitting as benchers voted as a bloc significantly more than the current benchers on the FullStop Team. Here’s the summary (E&OE):
% of bloc votes for BGC members
|% of bloc votes for FullStop Team|
Despite being characterized as a political bloc, the FullStop benchers encouraged debate within the group and respected a plurality of ideas and positions, but typically aligned on key areas of shared concern (like repealing the SOP).
We formed a slate of candidates in 2019 because we saw how difficult it was in 2016 for one or two to stand up against an ideological juggernaut. We don’t particularly enjoy the invectives directed at us, or the casual smearing of our professional reputations and personal integrity, but the continued independence of the bar and the restoration of the LSO to its proper role as a neutral regulator really are that important. We hope you think so too.
The Law Society of Ontario has lost its way. Let’s get it back on track. Vote FullStop.