The Law Society of Ontario wants to compel all lawyers who wish to practise in the province to agree to the society’s version of a progressive agenda. It would be a dangerous precedent.
The society may also make it mandatory for lawyers to attend sessions on such subjects as “unconscious bias” and apparently any other subjects it considers necessary to further its agenda.
Many lawyers aren’t buying it. There are grumblings about “compelled speech,” “thought control” and some are talking about George Orwell’s novel 1984.
What’s a progressive agenda?
It’s what Justin Trudeau announced in 2015 when he was elected prime minister: the pursuit of “equality, diversity, and inclusion.”
One of Trudeau’s first decisions after assuming power was to announce that 50 percent of his cabinet ministers would be women, regardless of the number elected. When a reporter asked him why, he famously replied, “because it’s 2015.”
At first glance, it might seem that this decision made sense. After all, who doesn’t believe in principles like equality, diversity and inclusion? But when you dig a little deeper, problems appear.
For instance, in order for Trudeau’s decision to make sense, you must also believe that just as many women as men want to be politicians and cabinet members but are prevented from doing so by shadowy obstacles like ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘systemic discrimination.’
But what if there are many reasons for people to aspire to these jobs that have nothing to do with any kind of discrimination? For example, the life of a politician is very demanding. Cabinet ministers have even more demanding lives. A person embarking on this career path must start early, work very hard and make many sacrifices. Could it be that more women than men simply don’t want this life?
What if you don’t accept the notion that if not for unconscious bias and systemic discrimination, the races and ethnic groups would all be equally represented in politics, law, education, engineering, physics, etc.? What if there are many reasons why different groups of people choose different paths?
It appears that the Law Society of Ontario won’t allow lawyers who hold such beliefs to practise law in Ontario. Those beliefs don’t accord with the society’s views about social justice, so those lawyers who won’t consent must find other work.
No wonder many Ontario lawyers are refusing to sign on. Some even plan to move to other provinces.
This issue isn’t unique to Canada. A lawsuit alleges that Harvard University has been discriminating against Asian-American students using an “illegal racial quota system.” The trial has fanned the flames on a decades-old debate over affirmative action policies that were intended to benefit minority groups in the U.S. The case may well spell the end of affirmative action in higher education in the U.S.
Affirmative action policies bring problems, yet the Law Society of Ontario is going down the same dark path.
The progressive agenda now in vogue in Canada isn’t just new and untested in our country: it’s actually quite radical.
When Canada’s trade negotiators attempted to compel the two most powerful countries in the world, the United States and China, to accept Trudeau’s progressive agenda, the giants would have none of it. They smelled a rat, because nice words like equality, diversity and inclusion can hide complex and vexing issues.
Most lawyer believes that a person should be hired, evaluated and promoted solely on merit, not on superficial criteria like ethnic origin, race or gender. That belief puts them in conflict with the progressive agenda of their professional association.
To the law society, everything is about race and gender. That’s simply wrong and Ontario lawyers should send the society’s head office packing.
Let’s hope that Ontario’s lawyers have their own views about human rights and their own ethical sense of responsibility. They shouldn’t let themselves be pushed around. If they do, other professional societies will likely follow.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.