Why the Statement of Principles troubles me as a visible minority

By the end of March all lawyers and paralegals in Ontario will be required to sign an acknowledgement and promise to “promote” equality, diversity and inclusion generally in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.” As a female visible minority licensee, I find this deeply troubling, not only because it is vague and far-reaching, but also because it inevitably leads one to certain conclusions.

Sadie Etemad

By the end of March all lawyers and paralegals in Ontario will be required to sign an acknowledgement and promise to “promote” equality, diversity and inclusion generally in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.” 

At the same time the Law Society of Ontario announced this new duty, it advertised itself as a systemically racist bar and labeled licensees like me as “racialized.” It informed licensees that they will need to take Continuing Professional Development programs to rehabilitate themselves from their unconscious racist biases and in the future promote the high value of equality, diversity and inclusion. 

As a female visible minority licensee, I find this deeply troubling, not only because it is vague and far-reaching, but also because it inevitably leads one to certain conclusions.

The LSO is implying that licensees it admitted prior to 2018 are guilty of racism by origin or by the simple association of signing up into this racist institution and that all future members need to be rehabilitated and cured of racism.

They seem to assume thatall “racialized” licensees, although guilty of racism by association, are also victims of racism.

It also appears that all members are being tasked with racial-justice missionary work in addition to being advocates of justice and officers of the court.

When I read this new rule, I could not believe my eyes. For the first time during my life in Canada, I felt uneasy about who I am, as a female, as a visible minority and as a lawyer. 

The announcement made me wonder, if I worked all my adult life to become a member of a racist club. Was I racist to begin with? Or did I become racist by association when I signed up? 

I thought I was a successful, privileged individual, who worked hard and managed to become a lawyer in Canada. Am I actually, despite my achievements, a victim of my racial background? 

The LSO wants me to take courses and modify my behaviour to cleanse myself of racial bias, but what have I done, which now obligates me to modify my conduct?

In order to promote these values and principles, should I be “calling out” colleagues, employees, clients and the public on their improper conduct and actions, assuming the role of enforcer for equality, diversity and inclusion?

If so, how can I simultaneously evaluate my own conduct as well as that of others? What is the benchmark by which this conduct should be judged?

By being an officer of the court in Canada, which has codified equality and human dignity into its highest laws, I am already promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.

With greatest respect to my colleagues who are proponents of the Statement of Principles, I believe that this rule sets us up for failure. 

If our bar is a systemically racist bar (which I absolutely do not think it is), this new rule will not make it less racist. Racism is not a light switch that can be turned off by a tick in the box. The eradication of racism can only be accomplished by introduction, knowledge and celebration of diversity. 

This new rule will not engender respect for “racialized” colleagues, employees, clients and the public. It will not eliminate the legitimate questions surrounding any lawyers’ credentials, years of practice and competence. In fact, I think this new rule will undermine the “racialized” licensees’ credentials and competence as lawyers and make the status they have earned seem like a hand out. 

This new rule and the Continuing Professional Development programs that will follow will not rehabilitate racist lawyers (if there are any in Ontario), but will merely teach them to hide their racism.

This new rule and our new role as missionaries and enforcers of equality, diversity and inclusion will have unintended consequences. It will decrease open and frank conversations between colleagues. It will impose unjustified infringements on employees and clients’ freedom of expression and conscience. It will increase needless conflicts of interests with clients. Above all, it could potentially discredit the Ontario bar in the eyes of the public. 

I am proud of the fact that I am a female visible minority and an immigrant who has dedicated her entire adult life to becoming a lawyer in Canada. But, I am deeply disappointed and troubled that my achievement is now undermined and tainted with racism. I find no justification behind my mandatory rehabilitation, so that I am no longer racist. I do not accept the transformation of my role as a lawyer into a missionary and enforcer. What is more, I am deeply concerned about the future ramifications that the Statement of Principles will have on the legal profession in Ontario. 

Sadie R. Etemad is a sole practitioner focusing on family, wills & estates and immigration matters. She can be reached at: sadie.r.etemad@setlaw.ca.

 


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