Rule requiring commitment to promoting diversity divides Law Society of Ontario

The 361 University courthouse in downtown Toronto. File / Global News

TORONTO – A heated debate that has divided the Law Society of Ontario for months is expected to continue Wednesday as the organization’s board of directors considers scrapping a rule that requires its members to spell out their commitment to promoting diversity.

The board is meeting in Toronto to discuss – and potentially vote on – a motion to repeal the rule that calls for lawyers to create and abide by a so-called “statement of principles” acknowledging their obligation to advocate for equality and inclusion.

The measure was one of 13 recommendations issued in 2016 by an internal working group on tackling systemic racism in the legal profession.

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But some argue the requirement goes too far and, earlier this year, a slate of candidates was elected to the board after campaigning on a promise to revoke it.

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They argue the rule imposes values on lawyers and amounts to unconstitutional, compelled speech.

Supporters of the measure, meanwhile, say it is a small but important step towards eradicating systemic barriers and builds on lawyers’ existing obligations without encroaching on their rights.

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