I was recently struck by the slightly defiant social media activity of some fellow law school students. On Canada Day, a few expressed embarrassment at the country’s state of law making and governance rather than pride.
As I lazily scrolled through Facebook on Canada Day morning, I glanced at a collection of maple leaf images my friends used to festively replace their profile or cover pictures. My friend Amber Chisolm’s status popped up first on my news feed. A 2L going on 3L, Amber is equal parts advocate and eloquent. Her bold status surprised and impressed me. It read:
“Happy Canada Day . . . All I have to say is that I’m proud to have so many friends on Facebook who recognize that our country needs a lot of work to deserve their pride. Hoping sometime soon we can start working towards a Canada I can be proud of.”
It was brash yet appropriate given Chisolm’s steadfast activism. Since Canada Day, Amber has shared more with me. “I think that one of the things that causes the most dismay is Canadian apathy,” she says. “The apathy over legislation like Bill-C51, which gives the Canadian government extremely broad powers to arrest and imprison people who are potential threats, is troubling. Legislation like this forms a scary precedent by using safety as an excuse to silence dissenters, protesters, and political radicals.”
As future lawyers, expressions of dismay over the laws of the land such as Chisolm’s are not insignificant. Among the first lessons of law school is that the law is slow to change. Admittedly, we’re an impatient bunch, both the typical law student and our generation. So, it can be further demoralizing when the pace of evolution really crawls or worse yet, shifts into reverse.
And when the very set of rules within which a lawyer works raises an objection or offends, there lies a problem. Operating within a legal framework comprised of laws including some that are highly disagreeable is a tall order for an aspiring lawyer. While the law touches nearly all facets of society, it is likely easier to brush off antiquated laws or questionable governance when you’re not applying those very laws day to day.
I’ve wrestled with my own qualms about the profession this year and last year as law societies and my future peers across the country considered — and in some cases, reconsidered — the accreditation of Trinity Western University’s law school. TWU is a school that commits pernicious discrimination inconsistent with my definition of equality in Canada. That the school has won so many proponents among lawyers gives me pause for thought.
I am also discouraged by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision not to participate in televised election debates in the fall. While party leaders are not mandated to attend the debates by statute or common law, the broadcast event helps Canadians to cast informed ballots. The prime minister’s appalling decision shows an utter disregard for voters and offends me and many other law students. How can I have confidence in the decisions of Parliament following such neglect by the country’s highest politician?
Chisolm is also exhausted by New Brunswick Minister of Health Victor Boudreau’s mixed messaging over the issue of healthcare delivery for trans people in the province.
“While he told trans groups months ago he would meet with them to discuss access and coverage, he clearly doesn’t intend to actually listen to the people affected by current policies given earlier comments he made suggesting trans health care is not a priority; that it is a waste of money because it isn’t a medical necessity from his point of view,” she says.
“He also cited concerns for doctors who might wish to conscientiously object to treating trans patients, which doesn’t seem in step with Canadian Charter values, nor with practising medicine compassionately and holistically.”
But then this summer has also delivered an historic and socially progressive legal decision, albeit in another jurisdiction. The June 26 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, was epic. I am elated by the global message sent by a world superpower that it’s OK to be gay. Decisions like this fuel my optimism for change in the advancement of human rights.
And, despite the dismay of law students over unreasonable laws that we will apply in practice and the conduct of politicians who make them, there is a silver lining to all this shame. “I came to law school thinking I wanted a stable job in family law or government, something that I could live comfortably in but also have time for activism and helping people on the ground,” Chisolm says.
“I’m starting to feel that, to me, there is so much that can be improved that, instead, I want to dedicate myself to it as fully as I can. I’m very interested in working with human rights organizations or government commissions. I always knew I wanted to be working to make Canada a friendlier place to all kinds of people, but I realize now that it’s going to be a full-time job.”