The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code are paramount sources of law. Their status as such is beyond dispute. I recognize neither the professionalism, nor the legitimacy, of any legal practice in Ontario that denies this paramountcy. While the specific interpretation, application, and limits of the law of equality are always open to reasoned argument and respectful debate, the underlying concept of equality is as basic to modern law as mathematics is to engineering and biology is to medicine.
There is no basic human right to a license to practice law. The license is a privilege, but only one of many privileges that I have obtained as a heterosexual cis-male of European settler heritage born, just as my parents were born, in Ontario, Canada. That these privileges make life easier for me – and more difficult for others – only underscores my conviction that privilege must yield to the measure of equality pursued by a democratic society. I am proud to live in a democracy that has adopted several forms of equality, in both public and private spheres, as a matter of constitutional principle. To acknowledge that I have considered the applicability of these topics to my own practice, upon annual license renewal, is a regulatory obligation no more compelled than the use of the phrases ‘your honour’ or ‘my friend’. I kindly invite any licensees who cannot accept such obligations to find less-regulated types of work, such as ‘philosopher’ or ‘pundit’. (Perhaps some of them already have.)
As a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario, I am obligated to promote and respect the dignity of my clients, my opponents, my colleagues, and my students. This includes, but is not limited to, working toward the reduction of barriers faced by individuals due to their “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability or the receipt of public assistance.” This includes, but is not limited to, working toward reconciliation of the colonial British-Canadian legal order, its past and ongoing harms to Indigenous people, and the fact that Indigenous people called this land their home before any other person knew it even existed. This obligation is both a matter of collective values and a special, heightened duty of legal practitioners.
In fact, the Human Rights Code is not sufficient. The creation of these Statements, with the greatest respect to the Law Society’s Racialized Licensees Working Group, is not sufficient. That some lawyers and law professors have decried ‘totalitarian thought control’ in objection to this minimal exercise only underscores the basis of my own practice: oppressed communities, whether apparently protected by human rights statutes or not, remain oppressed. Their marginalization and exclusion – historically and currently – is often accomplished through legal structures, a legal profession, judiciary, and branches of government that protect and entrench privilege above equality. Too much of the law remains colonial, discriminatory, and unjust. Too many members of the profession think that this is not their problem.
That is why I, along with many of my favourite colleagues and professional heroes, have embraced a duty higher than any regulatory requirement: to fight for social justice alongside oppressed communities. I am proud to belong to a movement of community legal clinics supporting resistance against dominance and colonialism, in ways made necessary by profession’s traditional representation of the powerful against the weak.
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