The British Columbia Law Society has traded self-governance for political re-education, compromising the ability of its lawyers to act independent of politics, and ensuring a revolt among members
It’s not often you see a self-governing profession torch it’s own credibility and throw its members’ independence into the trash bin in the name of ideology, but the Benchers of B.C.’s Law Society have elected to do just that.
The 25 Benchers of the Law Society comprise the board of directors for lawyers in the Province (along with six non-lawyers). The Benchers have now “determined” that all lawyers in the Province own a piece of collective guilt over the treatment of indigenous people and therefore, as part of “competence”, all lawyers will be required to take a mandatory “intercultural competency course”. From the Law Society’s website:
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established because former students and survivors of the residential schools came forth and placed the issue on the public agenda. The TRC report highlights how Canadian law and lawyers played an active role in forcing Indigenous children into residential schools. The intergenerational impacts of residential schools continue for Indigenous people today.
Canada’s laws and policies were created based on notions of Indigenous inferiority and European superiority, and have facilitated discrimination against Indigenous peoples. These laws resulted in disparities and inequalities between Indigenous peoples and broader Canadian society. These inequalities have led to many Indigenous peoples having a deep distrust of Canada’s legal system.
To contribute to, and be ready for, changes in law that reflect Indigenous laws, their potential relevance and applicability within the Canadian legal system, lawyers need to know the context and history of those laws and our legal system.”
You don’t need to be a lawyer to see through the political and ideological underpinnings of this effort, and the paper-thin justification for introducing re-education for B.C. Lawyers against their will. It’s enough to make a Maoist proud.
Let’s start at the (obvious) beginning.
THE LAW SOCIETY ISN’T A HISTORICAL SOCIETY
One of the most important pillars of a free society is the independence of not only the judiciary, but lawyers. It’s no coincidence that totalitarian regimes start with the television and radio stations, but arrest the lawyers shortly thereafter. Have you heard of the story of the freedom-fighting lawyers of North Korea who uphold the rights of citizens before independent, impartial North Korean tribunals? Neither have I.
I believe that a strong, independent legal profession is essential to the rule of law and democratic society. – former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin
To state the obvious: lawyers don’t need mandatory history lessons, especially not those served up by the government. Our job is to serve clients. Cynically disguising historical re-education as “competence training” adds insult to injury. The Law Society should be ashamed of itself.
In addition, one may fairly ask, “who’s history”? Apart from the wonderfully Orwellian title of “intercultural competency”, there’s little to recommend the idea of some bureaucrat at the Law Society spoon-feeding (formerly) independent-minded lawyers a version of history which conveniently accords with the political tenor of the times.
Presumably — to be comprehensive — the Law Society will include a unit on the terror brought to many other aboriginal peoples by the feared Coastal Haida peoples.
Prior to contact with Europeans, other Indigenous communities regarded the Haida as aggressive warriors and made attempts to avoid sea battles with them. Archeological evidence shows that Northwest coast tribes, to which the Haida belong, engaged in warfare as early as 10 000 BC. Though the Haida were more likely to participate in sea battles, it was not uncommon for them to engage in hand-to-hand combat or long-range attacks. – Wikipedia
RE-EDUCATION COMPROMISES THE INDEPENDENCE OF LAWYERS AND BREACHES THEIR CHARTER RIGHTS
The Code of Professional Conduct contains the following ethical admonition for lawyers: “A lawyer is a minister of justice, an officer of the courts, a client’s advocate and a member of an ancient, honourable and learned profession.”
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states the following:
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:(a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication…
Lawyers do not trade in their Charter rights when called to the Bar. In fact, as members of the justice system they are called upon to honour and help enforce the rights of all Canadians to exercise these freedoms. Forcing lawyers into mandatory ideological training is antithetical to Charter values and the historical independence of lawyers. The fact that it is the Law S0ciety — the regulatory body for lawyers themselves — makes the breach even more egregious.
IDEOLOGY AS SOCIAL JUSTICE
Most lawyers would agree that a self-governing body is a good thing. But the Law Society appears to have exceeded its mandate by a wide margin, if not outright contravened that mandate:
“It is the object and duty of the society to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons, ensuring the independence, integrity, honour and competence of lawyers…” – Legal Profession Act
As noted above, the Benchers have attempted to smuggle in an attempt at re-education under the guise of “competence”, but in doing so have thrown overboard their more fundamental obligation to uphold and protect the rights and freedoms of all persons (including lawyers) and have compromised the requirement of ensuring the independence of lawyers in the Province. Presumably each Bencher had their own reasons for pursuing this course. But the cause of social justice cannot be a torch for setting fire to individual liberty and professional independence. The conflagration will claim us all in the end.
The B.C. Law Society may wish to make a case study of the Law Society of Ontario’s “Statement of Principles”, which led to a revolt of rank-and-file members and a reversal of another social justice initiative mandated from above by virtue-signaling Benchers. That battle continues to be fought, in public, in the media, and amongst members of the Ontario Bar.
Lawyers are an independent-minded lot. The profession as a rule does not attract shrinking violets. The Law Society’s re-education campaign is in its early stages. Lawyers, already saddled with heavy workloads and billing pressures, are unlikely to welcome yet another mandated directive by the Law Society, particularly an ideologically-driven re-education campaign. For now the Benchers are bathing in the afterglow of righteous virtue, untroubled by members who have either not absorbed the news or are too busy at the moment. But that is likely to change. And when it does, the Law Society may come to realize that lawyers are just as good at protecting their own rights and freedoms as that of their clients.