Why I am not running again in the Law Society of Ontario bencher election

Fixing voter apathy and governance need to be the top priority

Why I am not running again in the Law Society of Ontario bencher election
Joseph Groia

The most important election in the history of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society of Ontario is now underway. I will not be running in it.

Instead, I will work hard to at least double the number of lawyers voting and help elect many new benchers. 31 out of 40 incumbent elected benchers are running again; 19 are holdovers from the “StopSop” party, most of whom now belong to the “FullStop” party or the DeadEnd party as I call it. 10 other incumbents are running for the Good Governance Coalition. They claim they will disband if elected. Very strange.

Two incumbents are running as independents. The profession’s goal in this election should be to vote out at least 16 incumbent benchers and elect at least 25 new ones. This will not be an easy task, as the history of the LSO teaches us that incumbents are usually re-elected. Nevertheless, I gave up my seat to a new bencher to show my commitment to this cause.

My conscience has been telling me for some time now that I needed to continue to work to increase the number of lawyers who vote in the election rather than trying to run for re-election myself. During my years as an independent bencher, I have pointed out the many errors in corporate governance at the LSO, most notably the terrible mistake in passing the statement of principles [SOP] and the refusal to accept my proposed conscientious objection amendment to it. As is often said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We have only barely survived the 4-year storm that followed. Do not be fooled, however, by those candidates who are now fearmongering and wanting to re-fight the 2019 election again. The SOP is dead, and it’s never coming back to life.

This election needs to be about new issues; voter apathy, the waste of a valuable financial asset in LAWPRO, the continuation of articling when it has become discriminatory, the proposed gutting of critical LSO support services and questions of integrity. Last year I was asked to deal with some instances of serious bencher misconduct. I was unsuccessful. As a result, I lost most of my trust in corporate governance at the LSO today.

Much more needs to be said about what goes on behind closed doors at the LSO. I hope to say as much as probity will allow. I also hope that some other benchers will speak up. However, I know that if I were to run again, it would have resulted in my deeply held concerns being dismissed as “politics” by those benchers who, in my view, should not be re-elected. I hope to shine a light on some serious LSO governance problems and add to the profession’s best and maybe last chance for wholesale change.

I also concluded that it was time to end my unhappy relationship with the LSO. It has been at the centre of my personal and professional life for the last 22 years; 8 years under its surveillance while I conducted the successful defence of the late John Felderhof in the Bre-X Minerals Ltd case and another nine years while being prosecuted for how I conducted that defence. Only in the Supreme Court of Canada was I acquitted of the LSUC’s charges of alleged incivility. Finally, I have now spent eight difficult years as a bencher.

During this last term, dealing with the impact of COVID on LSO finances and with the misconduct of a few members of Convocation was exhausting. Sadly, some incumbent benchers running again are not, in my respectful view, fit and proper to serve as benchers. Sometimes, they see their job as hurling angry comments at those they accuse of “wokeism.” In other cases, they engage, with impunity, in conduct that falls far below the standards of honesty and integrity that the profession is entitled to expect from benchers. The terrible and sad irony for me is that this conduct is what passes for leadership and civility at the LSO in 2023. It is neither.

Seeing what goes on behind the LSO’s closed doors has been hard on my soul. I am not good at keeping secrets about things that should be disclosed to the profession, especially when they are so important. Questions of honesty and integrity need to be at the forefront of this campaign. Do not cast 36 or 40 votes for any party based on their slogans. Only vote for those candidates that you know you can trust.

I hope our new bench will have the moral courage and the wisdom to tackle the complex issues it will face in cleaning up the sad situation at the LSO and that it will act with the leadership, civility, and respect now missing at Convocation. I hope that it will follow the policy of transparency that is in our by-laws but is not in our practice. If my experience as a bencher and my 17-year fight with the LSO has taught me anything, it is this: We need to elect as many new benchers as we can who have independence of thought, the moral courage to stand up for what is right, and the wisdom to know the difference between right and wrong.

Some benchers and the LSO have lost their moral compass. The profession needs to clean the Convocation house. The cherished and essential right of self-governance of the profession is at the beginning of its end if we do not make the right choices in this watershed election. Please get out and vote wisely.

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