The biggest issue facing the legal profession is the systemic racism facing racialized lawyers. This issue directly affects the public interest since qualified lawyers are being excluded from opportunities within the legal profession. Following law school, a racialized colleague of mine felt compelled to change his name because he believed that he was being excluded from legal opportunities. Once he changed his name to an Anglicized name, he said that he started receiving calls for interviews from law firm and other legal employers. I have heard stories from colleagues who wear hijab and have been unable to secure legal opportunities despite their qualifications. There are stories from racialized lawyers who worked at law firms, including “social justice” law firms and have experienced discriminatory slurs and treatment from senior lawyers. These are small examples of the countless stories from racialized lawyers who have been excluded from opportunities and treated with indignity. This should not happen in 2019. Unfortunately, the Law Society’s current measures addressing discrimination and racism in the legal profession are insufficient.
I was Called to the Bar in 2012. Since my Call, I have practiced exclusively in the area of labour, employment and human rights law. I have worked in a variety of legal work settings, including in-house lawyer and sole-practitioner. I hold degrees in Biology, Political Science and Law from the University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto and University of Ottawa, respectively. I have also acted as an Adjudicator with the Ontario Licence Appeal Tribunal. I was recently the President of the Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers, and former council member of the Ontario Bar Association and I also served on the Board of Directors of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA). I am also a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.
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Candidates I support
Bencher candidates that support the Statement of Principles and concrete solutions to eliminate racism and discrimination in the legal profession
Something the LSO does that it should stop doing
Something the LSO doesn't do that it should start doing
Access to justice is enhanced when diversity/inclusion is improved and the cost of a legal education is reduced. Access to justice is linked to diversity and inclusion. As the province increasingly becomes more diverse, clients expect diversity to be reflected in their legal service providers. Also, access to justice is linked to the cost of a legal education. We need to acknowledge the burden on law students who are forced to work in corporate law or other areas in order to reduce their law school debt. The financial burden on law students need to be reduced if they decide to practice in areas of law which are under-represented and under-funded. I will advocate for a debt reduction/loan reduction program for lawyers who commit to practice in under-serviced areas or poverty law areas for a number of years.
Bencher representation is heavily skewed to older and senior lawyers. As a result, junior lawyers and new calls are excluded from representation. The LSO should include spots for lawyers who have less than 10 years of experience. This would ensure that issues which directly affect junior lawyers and new calls are adequately and thoroughly addressed.
The cost of legal education is out of control. In the mid 1990s, law school fees were regulated by the provincial government and as a result, graduates were not forced into certain practice areas in order to pay their law school debt. Today, in some law schools, one year of law school tuition is equivalent to the entire 4 year tuition of an undergraduate student. This is an access to justice issue which is within the mandate of the Law Society. Increased tuition fees also disproportionately affect racialized law students and diversity as a whole. As a result, the Law Society needs to take measures in conjunction with the provincial government and law schools to address this issue. For example, in medicine, law schools have implemented tuition waiver programs for students who practice in remote areas as general practitioners. The Law Society should be tackling these issues with the appropriate stakeholders.
I support the Statement of Principles but I feel it does not go far enough. The fact that some privileged members of profession are vigorously against the Statement of Principles is an embarrassment to our profession. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers already have a special responsibility to abide by the Ontario Human Rights Code and not engage in discrimination and harassment. Also, lawyers already wear gowns, bow in Court, and also say “Your Honour/Your Worship” in court. This is not a “compelled speech” issue. The reality is that some compulsion on expression is already tolerated by lawyers yet the far less intrusive requirement to abide by the Statement of Principles is being vigorously opposed by some on academic and theoretical grounds. The Statement of Principles merely reflect the Ontario Human Rights Code and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It’s also unfortunate that these lawyers are offering no solutions to address the systemic racism and discrimination which is plaguing the legal profession. We need benchers who will stand strong against this opposition. Anti-racism in the profession is non-negotiable.
I believe the traditional articling requirement is the best method to begin the practice of law, however, I also realize that discrimination and racism in the profession disproportionately affect racialized law students in securing articling positions. The LPP program is an alternative, however, I believe that we should first strengthen the tools to combat discrimination and racism in the profession in order allow racialized law students to secure articling positions.
Indigenous communities and reconciliation is very important. As a regulator, the Law Society needs to start listening to indigenous lawyers and communities in order to ensure that indigenous communities are provided with access to justice. In certain northern communities in Ontario, the systemic racism faced by indigenous communities and lawyers is real. The Law Society needs to acknowledge its role as a regulator and voice of the profession. We need Aboriginal benchers to be represented.
Mental health in the profession is very important. The Law Society needs to provide more support for licensees to deal with the stresses from the legal profession. This is linked to my call for Financial Accountability. More funds need to be allocated to improving mental health programs for lawyers. The Law Society should consider the addition of extended health benefits for lawyers who are not provided with such benefits from their employment. The discipline and investigation process also needs to adhere to the duty to accommodate under the Human Rights Code.
Practicing law is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, the Law Society needs to treat discrimination as a serious professionalism and regulatory issue. As Bencher,
I will commit to strengthening the powers of the Discrimination and Harassment Counsel to include the same investigatory powers as the Law Society’s Investigation Counsel; Including an anti-racism lens to the Rules of Professional Conduct and clearly addressing unconscious bias and systemic discrimination as professionalism and regulatory issues; Promoting name-blind recruitment practices for law firms to reduce conscious or unconscious bias.
Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees