Canadian Constitution Foundation supports challenge to Law Society’s personal Statement of Principles

Canadian Constitution Foundation supports challenge to Law Society’s personal Statement of Principles

Calgary, Alberta—The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) announced that it is supporting an application filed today in the Ontario Superior Court by Dr. Ryan Alford, a law professor at Lakehead University, challenging the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) new requirement that licensees draft a personal “Statement of Principles” acknowledging their obligation to promote “equality, diversity and inclusion” both “generally” and in their profession.

In a recent email to all lawyers and paralegals licensed in Ontario, the LSUC called the new requirement “mandatory,” describing it as follows:

You will need to create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public. You will be asked to report on the creation and implementation of a Statement of Principles in your 2017 Annual Report.

According to the Law Society, “[t]he intention of the statement of principles is to demonstrate a personal valuing of equality, diversity, and inclusion with respect to the employment of others, or in professional dealings with other licensees or any other person.” (emphasis in original)

CCF Executive Director Howard Anglin says this requirement is a form of unconstitutional compelled speech.

“This requirement goes beyond requiring lawyers and paralegals to follow the law and not discriminate,” Anglin said. “Even if a lawyer agrees with the principles in the new requirement, as most likely do, being required to ‘demonstrate a personal valuing’ of them crosses the line into unconstitutional compelled speech.”

Anglin notes that in the case of National Bank of Canada v. Retail Clerks’ International Union, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) could not compel a bank president to sign a letter drafted by the NLRB to all bank employees effectively endorsing a ruling against the bank under the Canada Labour Code. The Supreme Court wrote: 

However admirable the objectives and provisions of the Code may be, no one is obliged to approve of them: anyone may criticize them, like any other statute, and seek to have them amended or repealed, though complying with them so long as they are in effect. Remedies Nos. 5 and 6 thus force the Bank and its president to do something, and to write a letter, which may be misleading or untrue. This type of penalty is totalitarian and as such alien to the tradition of free nations like Canada. (emphasis added)

Derek From, a lawyer with the CCF, explained:

“The freedoms of conscience and expression that we enjoy as Canadians, and which are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, mean that the Law Society cannot force us to draft and endorse a personal Statement of Principles. If we as lawyers don’t stand up for our own rights, how can clients expect us to stand up for theirs?”

Dr. Ryan Alford says he is pleased the CCF is supporting his challenge, saying:

“When lawyers are called to the Bar of Ontario, they promise to ‘champion the rule of law and safeguard the rights and freedoms of all persons.’ This means that every arm of the state, including professional regulatory bodies, must have a legal and constitutional basis for what they demand of citizens. As I accepted the responsibility of upholding the rule of law when I became a lawyer, I am bound to challenge this new requirement, which exceeds the Law Society’s authority and is, therefore, inconsistent with the rule of law.”