A group that opposes the Law Society of Ontario’s Statement of Principles says it is raising money to campaign for a slate of candidates in the upcoming bencher election.
The website also says it will post a list of candidates alongside a campaign kick-off around March 1 and requests donations for a “campaign expenses fund.”
Lubomir Poliacik, a partner at Crum-Ewing/Poliacik Barristers & Solicitors in Toronto, who is running for bencher, says the Statement of Principles is the result of “uncontrolled mission creep at the LSO,” which he would aim to change if elected.
“I did join the slate — there is a slate, and I’m glad there are others that agree with me even though they don’t have the personal experiences I do. Obviously, there still are lawyers that recognize there is a problem,” says Poliacik.
“I think it’s completely undemocratic. The reason that this is all happening, really, is because the law society has lost its way.”
The Law Society of Ontario requires licensees to “create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.”
It was one of several initiatives approved in December 2016 by Convocation — the board of the legal profession’s regulatory body.
But now that Convocation’s members are up for re-election, it is once again a “live issue,” says bencher candidate D. Jared Brown, lead counsel at Brown Litigation in Toronto. He says he would like to reintroduce the debate around the statement of principles if elected to Convocation.
Brown says that a group who shares his concerns about the statement of principles “coalesced” around the issue and that his personal plans to run for bencher crystallized in the fall of last year.
“They come from a very diverse and varied background in terms of who they are, what they are, how they think. The ends of the political spectrum are represented comprehensively. Through those conversations, many of those same people, including myself, have decided to put our names forward for election to bencher,” says Brown.
“I can’t speak for everyone running, but I can tell you there is some unity that the law society has strayed from the path. It ought to be returned to being a public interest regulator, and that would include getting away from the mandated and compelled values test that is the statement of principles.”
It is not yet clear who will be included in the official “slate” mentioned by the website. At least 13 of the 146 licensees running for bencher have also publicly stated their opposition to the statement of principles through StopSOP.
Gerald Charette, a staff lawyer at Miller Canfield LLP in Windsor, for example, says the statement of principles is only one of the reasons he has decided to run.
“[The statement of principles] betrays the LSO’s tendency toward a narrow focus on activism. The public requires a more broadly balanced approach that honours the key aspects of lawyerly practice — sound standards of learning, professional competence and conduct,” he says. “There is a group of like-minded lawyers who seek the more broadly balanced approach that the public requires.”
While Poliacik says he doubts that other benchers share his personal reasons for opposing the statement of principles — his family’s experiences fleeing the Soviet Union — he says he was glad to see a group of candidates that agreed with his viewpoint.
Poliacik also took aim at the LSO’s budget, which he says is too high.
Sam Goldstein shared concerns about the budget, saying the law society was becoming representative of big government. He says that while he does not purport to speak for StopSOP, he is “proud to run as a member of the slate,” which he calls a “loosely affiliated group of people” who may disagree on issues outside of the statement of principles debate.
But repealing the requirement of a statement of principles binds the group together, he says, because people feel the current benchers are “out of touch” with members of the profession.
“The fundamental focus of the law society is on protecting the public from incompetent lawyers and unethical lawyers. That’s what they should be focused on. Ultimately, clients don’t care who you are, they just want the best lawyer. And the law society is focusing on who the lawyers are,” says Goldstein.
“The goal of the slate is to win the majority of seats of benchers to repeal the requirement for the statement of principles.”
Ontario lawyers Klippenstein, who is running for bencher, and Bruce Pardy, who is not listed as a bencher candidate, publicized the slate in a Feb. 11 Quillette article, “How Social Justice Ideologues Hijacked a Legal Regulator.”
Klippenstein, who was not immediately available to comment to Law Times, wrote in the article that he was running with “the goal of changing the Law Society from the inside.”
“In the coming Bencher elections, I will campaign with a diverse group of lawyers and paralegals, organized collectively as StopSOP, and led by London, Ont.-based lawyer Lisa Bildy,” wrote Klippenstein.
“We hope to elect enough like-minded candidates to reverse the policy inside Convocation, or at least begin to turn the ship around. We seek to return the Law Society to its proper role as a regulator of professional competence rather than an activist body dictating political values and championing fashionable ideological causes.”
Separately from their recently announced bencher candidacies, Klippenstein and Alford are also still involved in a legal fight against the Law Society of Ontario around the statement of principles and “opposition to compelled statements of belief,” according to a Feb. 6 statement from the Canadian Constitution Foundation.
In July 2018, Alford was ordered to pay the LSO costs of $10,000 after a judge decided a the case should be transferred to Divisional Court.
Alford declined to comment on his position in the bencher elections.