Plan for Next Election: StopSOPers a Lost Cause

Julian Falconer called the Law Society of Ontario to account for its failure to address systemic inequity within the legal profession at a panel hosted by the Ontario Bar Association’s Roundtable of Diversity Association Conference today. The panel, which focused on the future of equity and diversity initiatives at the Law Society, included StopSOPers Murray Klippenstein and Gerard Charette, as well as former bencher and member of the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group, Avvy Go, and was moderated by Lisa Feld.

Throughout his remarks, Julian called StopSOPpers to account for their persistent denial of the existence of systemic racism in the legal profession, and for their stated goal to dismantle the equity initiatives that were adopted by the Law Society at the recommendation of the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Final Report, which represents the voices and lived experience of racialized lawyers in Ontario. He encouraged licensees not to be complacent, and to hold Benchers accountable for denying these realities in the next election.

Additionally, he called the Law Society to account for its failure to speak out against the barriers to equity-seeking movements that have been recently erected by the Ford Government, including changes to the judicial appointment process, barriers to the right sue government officials, and a reduction of the role of the Law Society in recommending appointees to the Board of Legal Aid Ontario.

Approximately 20% of licensees in Ontario are racialized. That number continues to rise as more and more racialized and Indigenous licensees are called to the bar every year. Among those, we are also seeing a rising number of licensees who also identify as women, francophones, members of the LGBTQ community, and/or as living with a disability. Barriers to these licensees continue to exist at a disproportionate level in Ontario. Racialized lawyers are more likely to be in sole practice, and when they are in law firms, they are twice as likely to be associates than partners. Statistics showing this have remained unchanged for years.

The Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Final Report found that 43% of racialized lawyers identified their race as a barrier to entry, and 50% of racialized lawyers stated that because of their race, they were expected to perform to a higher standard. A survey done in 2017 found that 21% of articling students face harassment and discrimination based on personal characteristics such as gender, race, sexual orientation, citizenship, and disability during their articles. In her now very well read 2017 article, “Black on Bay Street”, Hadiya Roderique shared recent survey results that found that one-third of Asian and black students “whiten” their resumes to cover their minority status when submitting applications to law firms and that students who did so tended to get 2.5 times more callbacks than students who did not.

These are real and ongoing problems that affect racialized licensees and communities in Ontario, and Julian drew attention to how little the current slate of Benchers is doing to address any of these issues either through internal policy or external advocacy, and urged Ontario lawyers to hold their Law Society accountable for their failure to serve the public interest in future Bencher elections.

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