On Friday, the Law Society of Upper Canada soundly rejected a motion proposed by Joseph Groia, a prominent Toronto lawyer and bencher of the Law Society, to create an exemption to the new mandatory Statement of Principles for persons who believe the requirement violates their freedom of conscience.
This leaves Dr. Ryan Alford’s legal and constitutional challenge to the requirement, which is supported by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, as the last defence of the rights and freedoms of lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.
While we were heartened that several benchers spoke passionately about the importance of freedom of speech and conscience, and of the dangers of compelled expression, it was chilling to hear others speak equally passionately about the need to curtail these fundamental freedoms in the pursuit of their goals, howsoever worthy and well-intentioned.
It was also telling that not one bencher could explain how the Statement of Principles – a document that can be downloaded from the Law Society website, signed, and put in a file that no one will ever see – would make any difference in furthering access to justice or the role of visible minorities and other minorities within the legal profession.
With the rejection of Mr. Groia’s motion, Dr. Alford’s application is now more important than ever. You would think that lawyers, of all professions, would understand the fundamental importance of free speech in a liberal democracy, and the need to hold a clear and firm line against compelled speech of any kind.
If lawyers will not stand up for our own rights, how can our clients trust us to stand up for theirs?
We acknowledge the Law Society’s recent attempt to clarify the meaning of the Statement of Principles requirement. In response, Dr. Alford has amended his application to seek an alternate relief in the form of a declaration that the Statement of Principles is to be interpreted consistent with Charter rights. We hope that the Law Society will consent to this declaration.
To learn more about the case, to support Dr. Alford, and for regular updates, go to: www.theccf.ca/noforcedspeech