The Law Society of Ontario is determined to compel all lawyers who wish to practise in that province to sign on to the Society’s version of a progressive agenda. The Society is also considering making it mandatory that lawyers attend sessions on such subjects as “unconscious bias,” and apparently any other subjects it considers necessary to further their progressive agenda.
Many lawyers are not buying it. There are grumblings about “compelled speech”, “thought control”, and some are talking about George Orwell’s “1984”.
Who is right? The Law Society or the grumblers?
First, what is a progressive agenda?
It is the same agenda that the newly elected Prime Minister announced in 2015, the pursuit of “equality, diversity, and inclusion”. One of the Prime Minister’s first decisions after assuming power was to announce that 50 percent of his cabinet ministers would be women regardless of the number elected. When a reporter asked him why, he famously replied “because it’s 2015”. That is the “progressive agenda” in action.
At first glance, it might seem that this decision made sense. After all, who does not believe in principles like “equality, diversity, and inclusion”? However, when you dig a little deeper, problems appear. For instance, in order for the Prime Minister’s decision to make sense you must also believe that just as many women as men want to be politicians and cabinet members but are prevented from doing so by shadowy obstacles like “unconscious bias” and “systemic discrimination”.
But what if there are many reasons for people to aspire to these jobs that have nothing to do with any kind of discrimination? For example, the life of a politician is a very demanding one. Cabinet ministers have even more demanding lives. A person embarking on this career path must start early, work very hard, and make many sacrifices. Could it be that more women than men simply do not want this life? Perhaps they are simply not interested in that career path?
And this applies to race and ethnic origin as well. What if you do not accept the notion that if not for unconscious bias and systemic discrimination the races and ethnic groups would all be equally represented in politics, law, education, engineering, physics etc.? What if there are many reasons why different groups of people to choose different paths?
It appears that the Law Society of Ontario will not allow lawyers, (or would be lawyers), who hold such beliefs to practise law in Ontario. Those beliefs do not accord with the Society’s views about social justice, so the dissenting lawyers, those who will not consent, must find other work.
No wonder many Ontario lawyers are refusing to sign on; some are even planning to move their offices to other provinces.
This issue is not unique to Canada. Currently, there is a famous trial over the use of race in admissions at one of the America’s most elite Ivy league schools, Harvard University. The lawsuit alleges that Harvard has been discriminating against Asian-American students using an “illegal racial quota system”. This trial is fuelling a decades old debate over affirmative action policies that were intended to benefit minority groups in the US. However, this legal case may very well spell the end of affirmative action in higher education in the US. This landmark trial is proof that there are problems that come with affirmative action policies. The Law Society is going down the same dark path!
The “progressive agenda” now in vogue in Canada is not only new and untested in our country–it is actually quite radical. It should be remembered that when Canada’s NAFTA negotiators attempted to compel the two most powerful countries in the world, The United States and China–to accept their boss’s “progressive agenda” the giants would have none of it. They smelled a rat, and they were right. Because nice sounding words, like “equality, diversity and inclusion” can hide complex and vexing issues. For these, and many other reasons, the American and Chinese negotiators were having none of it. And neither should Ontario’s lawyers.
But there is one reason above all others why Ontario lawyers should not only refuse to sign on to the Law Society’s “progressive agenda” but they should send the current Society’ head office packing. That is the principle of “merit”. Because most lawyer believes that a person should be hired, evaluated, and promoted solely on merit, and not on superficial criteria like ethnic origin, race, or gender places these professionals in contravention to the “progressive agenda” of their Professional Association. To the Society, everything is about race and gender. That is simply wrong.
Let’s hope that Ontario’s lawyers have their own views about human rights and their own ethical responsibilities. They should not let themselves be pushed around. And a lot depends upon what they decide. Because whatever they do, other professional societies will likely follow.