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More than half of Ontario lawyers elected to regulator oppose statement of principles

Election could mark a turning point on issue
|Written By Anita Balakrishnan
More than half of Ontario lawyers elected to regulator oppose statement of principles
Murray Klippenstein, who was vocal about his opposition to the statement of principles, received the top number of votes for lawyers in the Toronto region in the bencher election.

More than half of the lawyers elected to the Law Society of Ontario’s new board of directors are opposed to the statement of principles, which lawyers say marks a sharp change in direction for the future of the regulator.

The Law Society of Ontario announced a new set of benchers — 40 lawyers and five paralegals — that were elected in a voting period that ended April 30.

Winners this year included many first-time bencher candidates and unseated several sitting benchers, a shift from 2015 when all 22 incumbent lawyer benchers that ran for re-election kept their seats in Convocation.

The group known as StopSOP — which had tried to mobilize support to repeal the statement of principles and elect candidates explicitly against it — said all 22 of the candidates who had run on their slate were successfully elected.    

“Myself and many other candidates made it very clear that we thought the compulsory statement of principles was an overreach and a rather serious infringement of some basic freedoms of thought and conscience. The voters seemed to have shared that concern,” says Murray Klippenstein, a lawyer in Toronto who ran his own law firm before striking out as a sole practitioner after the statement of principles requirement was announced.

Klippenstein was one of a number of candidates who had been vocal about their opposition to the statement of principles  and ran on a slate that said they would repeal the statement of principles, if elected.

This year’s election included a record-setting number of candidates, with 145 lawyers and paralegals on the ballot, the highest number since 1995, the last year figures were available from the Law Society of Ontario.
Approximately 120 candidates submitted candidate profiles to a website set up by Law Times to cover issues of importance to the election, including candidates’ stance on the statement of principles. 

Top vote-getters included: Cheryl Lean, a sole practitioner in Prince Edward County, Ont., who received 5,184 votes; Ryan Alford, a law professor in Thunder Bay, Ont., who received 5,062 votes; and Klippenstein, who received 5,017 votes and was the top vote-getter for the region. Malcolm Mercer, whose current term as treasurer began last June, was re-elected as a bencher, with 2,971 votes.

Klippenstein and Alford launched a court action against the requirements, backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation on Nov. 6, 2017. Alford was ordered to pay almost $10,000 in costs in that case last July.

Beginning in the 2017 annual report, lawyers were asked to create and abide by a statement that “acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public,” the law society’s website says.

Klippenstein says the new benchers will be moving toward repealing the statement of principles requirement — which could make his court action moot — but says the timing of that motion has not yet been determined.

He says the slate of candidates opposed to the statement of principles requirement haven’t solidified any plans to put forth a challenger for the role of law society treasurer.

“Certainly, for me, it’s humbling and it’s a huge responsibility. Right now, myself and many others are in a mode of listening and learning because benchers deal with a lot of big issues and important issues,” says Klippenstein, who now practises independently and was surprised by the results.

The newly elected benchers will begin terms in office on May 23 at the LSO’s next Convocation meeting. Benchers have term limits of 12 years, which meant some incumbent benchers did not run for re-election.

However, several notable lawyers were unseated, including: Jeffrey Lem, Ontario’s director of titles; William McDowell, a partner at Lenczner Slaght, and former associate deputy minister of justice, with responsibility for civil litigation; Heather Zordel, a commissioner of the Ontario Securities Commission; John Callaghan, former director of The Advocates' Society; and labour lawyer Howard Goldblatt. Rocco Galati and Jonathan Rosenthal were also unseated and widely known throughout the bar. Other high-profile lawyers that were not elected include former Ontario Bar Association presidents Lee Akazaki and Quinn Ross.

Susan Tonkin, the LSO’s spokeswoman, said in an email that nominations for the role of treasurer close 5 p.m. on May 24 this year, with an election process or acclamation process that would begin June 27.

It has been tradition in recent years for the treasurer, who leads Convocation, to run unopposed and be acclaimed for their second term.

Sitting treasurer Mercer, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto, sent an email statement to Law Times on the victory of the slate that opposed the statement of principles requirement.
Mercer has been a vocal supporter of the statement of principles in the past.

“These are decisions that Convocation will have to make. I look forward to a full and comprehensive bencher orientation over the course of the next month,” Mercer says.

Paralegal bencher Shelina Lalji says she experienced racist comments about her appearance and religion during her campaign but is open to both sides of the debate around the statement of principles requirement.

“Signing a piece of paper is not going to change anything,” she says. “All its going to do is drive people underground — those who are bigots or biased.”

Darryl Singer, head of commercial and civil litigation at Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP, was unsuccessful in his campaign.
He said in an email statement that he hopes the debate over the statement of principles does not “crowd out” significant issues such as funding for Legal Aid Ontario and pro bono initiatives.

“Obviously, the anger against the statement of principles was much more pronounced than most of us envision,” Singer says.
“For those who are unhappy with the new makeup of Convocation, I would point out that there is a silver lining. Many of the Big Law incumbents were not re-elected, and for the first time in my 25-year career, it looks like Convocation will actually be controlled by lawyers who are sole practitioners and from small firms.”

Julian Falconer of Falconers LLP, an incumbent who was involved in the consultation around the statement of principles requirement, said that while there is nothing to vote on yet, he hopes that those who want to dismantle protections for disadvantaged lawyers have ideas on different supports for them.

“This can’t be about protecting the privileged,” he says.

Inside Toronto
Murray Klippenstein  

Robert P. Adourian

Chi-Kun Shi

Geoff Pollock

Sam Goldstein

Lubomir Poliacik

D. Jared Brown

John F. Fagan

Nicholas dePencier Wright

Philip H. Horgan

Joseph Groia

Orlando Da Silva

Julia Shin Doi

Isfahan Merali

Gina Papageorgiou

Sidney H. Troister

Julian Falconer

Atrisha Lewis

Megan Shortreed

Malcolm Mercer

Outside Toronto

Joseph Chiummiento

Andrew Spurgeon

Gary D. Graham

Cheryl R. Lean

Jack Braithwaite

Etienne Esquega

Gerard Paul Charette

Ryan Alford

C. Scott Marshall

Cecil Lyon

Jorge E. Pineda

Alexander David Wilkes

Brian L. Prill

Jean-Jacques Desgranges

Trevor Robert Parry

Jacqueline Horvat

Teresa Donnelly

Claire Wilkinson

Paul M. Cooper

Dianne G. Corbiere

Paralegals elected

Robert Burd

Marian Lippa

Cathy Corsetti

Shelina Lalji

Michelle Lomazzo

  • Time for a Change

    Warren Fullerton
    The StopSOP slate was elected because the typical lawyer in Ontario was fed up with the old boy network running the Law Society, benchers who sat for decades. The Society employs 600 people - what on earth do all these people do? It has a budget the size of a good-sized city in this province. Average salary is over $100,000, which is more than many lawyers are making. Somebody authorized the Joe Groia witch-hunt, that cost millions in annual dues paid by lawyers. It was time for a change.
  • Competency First

    Tom
    The issue with equality, diversity initiative is that it promotes equality of outcome. Under this scenario a "savant" whether it be musical, mathematical, literature could be overlooked simple because of their color or sex. Wouldn't you want someone like that in a specific field of employment to have the most competent people? The only way forward is equity of opportunity. People pushing SOP are essentially devaluing merit, achievement, talent and hard work all of which is something I would want in a lawyer. It lessens the profession and not enriches it.
  • RE Competency First

    Angela Browne
    Are you sure this is about competency? How many of the StopSOP candidates that got elected are members of diversity groups? Does this mean that competency only rests in the white male native Canadian population among our professions? I don't think so. I have thoroughly read the issues around the Statement of Principles and I read nothing about equality of outcome. I only understood this to be an attempt, potentially misguided, to remind the professions that we too are bound by the Human Rights Code.
  • Drinking the "Kool-aid" of Identity Politics

    Tom
    The fact that you identify groups by race "namely all white men" and not by their actual individual accomplishments makes you the most racist person in the room. The stopSOP slate was voted so the vote should be respected. Identity politics is cancer. Some of the lawyers on the stopsop have dedicated their lives to helping disadvantaged people ( noticed not defined by race) in society and for you to lump them into some sort of nefarious groups of racists makes me even happier that they were successful so they can change some toxic philosophies in the legal profession and academia in general.
  • Congratulations!

    MH
    Congratulations on the StopSOP group for winning the election. It would be nice to see the law societies scale back their activism and their budgets which appear to be ballooning.

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