Why two motions coming before the LSO’s Convocation should be rejected

Motions seek to censure and remove partners from Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee, says bencher

Atrisha Lewis

I am a bencher of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO). I am disturbed by two motions to be considered at Convocation on February 27.

The motions seek to censure and remove LSO’s equity partners from the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee (EIAC). They were brought by two benchers who were part of a slate known as the “Stop SOP” (or “Stop the Statement of Principles”) slate. I was not a member of this slate.

I am disappointed at the substance of these two motions and the manner in which they were brought. I also hope to provide some context to this discussion and debate below.

Background to the motions

The notices of motion can be found here.

EIAC is a standing committee of Convocation. A subset of benchers sit on this committee and provide recommendations to Convocation on policy relating to equity issues.

There are many committees at Convocation. With 53 benchers, it is impossible to get anything done without delegating issues to various committees to consider, review, debate, and ultimately provide recommendations for.

I am the vice-chair of EIAC. There are many committees I do not sit on, and I rely on my bencher colleagues who do sit on those committees to do their diligence and provide thoughtful recommendations. Similarly, I expect benchers who are not on EIAC to trust the work of the committee.

LSO’s equity partners are the Equity Advisory Group (EAG), Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG), and L'Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Ontario (AJEFO). They are members of EIAC, attend meetings regularly and provide input on policy issues that are before the committee. As external groups, they do not vote at EIAC meetings, have any special rights to attend Convocation, nor do they vote at Convocation.

EAG is comprised of individual and organizational members including large diversity organizations in Ontario such as the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, the South Asian Bar Association, and the Roundtable of Ontario Diversity Organizations. More about EAG may be found here.

IAG is comprised of an Elder’s Council and individual members. Its mandate is to advance and encourage the reconciliation of Indigenous peoples and their legal systems to Canada’s legal system. More about IAG may be found here.

AJEFO is an organization that seeks to promote access to justice in French.

My response to the motions

One of the motions seeks to remove our equity partners (EAG, IAG, AJEFO) as participating members of EIAC, pending a study. While the preamble of this motion refers only to EAG, the motion would affect IAG and AJEFO as well.

This motion is simply wrong.

Substantively, how can a committee designed to consider equity and Indigenous issues meaningfully do so without input from members of those communities? There is an old slogan, “nothing about us without us.” How can the LSO meaningfully and thoughtfully implement policy recommendations on equity issues without input from equity seeking groups?

Procedurally, the circumstances of this motion are improper. If there are concerns about the participation of our equity partners, it should be addressed and considered within EIAC, where our equity partners would have an opportunity to respond. Instead, our equity partners have been blindsided by a motion days before the motion is to be debated and voted on at Convocation, where they have no standing to make submissions.

The other motion seeks to censure both EAG and the LSO’s Discrimination and Harassment Counsel, after a representative of EAG tweeted a remark that had been made to him by a bencher following an EIAC meeting, and the DHC retweeted that tweet. The EAG rep considered the remark to be racist, and there is an outstanding complaint arising from this incident. To censure based on this tweet and retweet suggests that the LSO rejects the truthfulness of the complainant’s account; the censure is also premature without a full investigation of the incident.

These motions are improper, both procedurally and substantively. They should be rejected. At the very least, the motions should be sent back to EIAC for debate and discussion.

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