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Globe editorial: Ontario law society can’t put words in people’s mouths

Any lawyer – or anyone else, really – who is familiar with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms knows that the state is not allowed to put words in people's mouths, or force them to swear their devotion to political viewpoints in order to keep their jobs.

So why, then, is the Law Society of Upper Canada obliging its members to write and sign a "statement of principles" in order to demonstrate "a personal valuing of equality, diversity, and inclusion"?

This is extremely uncomfortable to contemplate.

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Like everyone else these days, the LSUC is struggling with diversity. It recently adopted a set of strategies aimed at breaking down barriers "faced by racialized lawyers and paralegals."

Most of them are garden-variety requirements for individuals and firms to compile statistics and develop policies addressing the recruitment, retention and advancement of lawyers from minority groups.

But the LSUC has gone a step farther and is demanding that every licensed lawyer, retired or working, inside or outside the province, draw up and sign a "statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public." Failure to do so will result in sanctions. In its documentation about the statement of principle, the LSUC does not rule out suspension as one possibility.

This is claptrap. Lawyers are already required by their professional code of conduct to respect human-rights laws and the anti-discrimination clauses of the Charter. In fact, all professionals face the same obligations, as do all employers and their workers.

But the LSUC is using its authority to licence and discipline lawyers – a power that comes from the state – to force its members to sign some vague, Inquisition-style statement of fealty to popular political beliefs.

It matters not a whit that most Canadians may think of those beliefs as being beyond debate. The point is that the requirement violates freedom of conscience, belief, thought and expression.

One lawyer has taken the LSUC to court over the issue, arguing that the new requirement amounts to compelled speech. Prof. Ryan Alford of Lakehead University also argues that it falls outside the limits of the law society's powers, and is inoperable.

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It's mostly just bizarre. Why is the biggest law society in Canada telling its members how to think and what to say? If a business or government tried something like that, lawyers would be falling over each other to take the case.

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