Lawyers who oppose compelled speech have been elected to the Law Society of Ontario–and progressives are panicking

By Jonathon Van Maren

There is a certain irony to the fact that several lawyers with the Law Society of Ontario are raising the alarm—after an organization called StopSOP managed to elect a slate of directors opposed to the Ontario Law Society’s Statement of Principles. This statement of principles would have compelled speech, requiring lawyers to sign off on an “obligation to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion,” with all that those politically-loaded terms now imply. A number of lawyers and legal experts have been warning about this state of affairs for some time, and StopSOP went to work to elect directors who would restore freedom of conscience and oppose compelled speech.

Michele Mandel of the Toronto Sun reported this news with a rather leading headline: “Law Society of Ontario taken over by ‘right-wing, fundamentalist religious zealots?’” (Now, what do you think Ms. Mandel wants us to think about this turn of events?) As it turns out, a few lawyers were extremely alarmed to discover that a number of other lawyers who did not want to compel them to say anything had been elected as directors:

Some lawyers are raising the alarm about a slate of new directors to the Law Society of Ontario that includes those opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

“The convocation has 28 new benchers (directors), 22 of which were on a slate that was being promoted by a group of right-wing, fundamentalist religious zealots who, in my words, are one-trick ponies,” charges former law society director Michael Lerner. “The profession will now be regulated in a manner to promote the beliefs of those who now form the majority and include people on the record for being anti-abortion and anti-gay.”

Are you starting to get a sense of why intolerant fellows like Lerner having the right to compel colleagues to adopt his values is a very dangerous thing? Anyone who is pro-life (Lerner may be interested to page through one of the embryology textbooks taught in Canadian medical schools sometime) or supports the legal definition of marriage held by every nation on earth prior to the year 2000 is now, according to the blessedly-departed Lerner, a “right-wing, fundamentalist zealot.” They are also “one-trick ponies” (although even by Lerner’s own counting, that’s at least three tricks.) In fact, Lerner even got blunt with Mandel:

The London lawyer warned many in his profession had no idea who they were electing to the board of directors. “To be blunt, we have a slate of no-names who provided only minimal personal information on their election website.”

The contentious election last month to choose 40 directors, or benchers, to the law society’s board saw more than half come from the fully elected StopSOP slate — a group that ran on its determination to repeal the society’s controversial requirement for a compulsory “statement of principles.”

They argued the regulator’s requirement that every lawyer now acknowledge their “obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion” was an unacceptable mandate that “compels speech, infringes freedom of thought and conscience, and imposes a political litmus test” for the practice of law in Ontario.

So it seems that although many people didn’t know precisely who each director was, the fact that these lawyers were opposed to compelled speech was good enough for them. Surely there is a lesson for Lerner in there somewhere, although he may simply be a one-trick pony. More from Mandel:

“It’s a weird slate,” noted well-known lawyer Clayton Ruby, who was a bencher for 40 years. “A significant number of them are people who have right-wing religious views and little else to recommend them to office.”

In the past, he said, benchers were well-known leaders of the profession. “One has only been a lawyer for two years,” Ruby scoffed of the elected slate. “These are single issue benchers.”

The StopSOP group includes several lawyers on the losing end of the Trinity Western University (TWU) fight against the Law Society of Ontario, which refused to accredit the proposed Christian law school because its covenant bans students from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

New bencher Gerard P. Charette, a Windsor lawyer and ordained Roman Catholic permanent deacon, unsuccessfully sought to intervene in support of TWU at the Supreme Court, which went on to uphold the law society’s right not to recognize its graduates.

New bencher Phil Horgan is president of the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL). He’s on record supporting TWU, opposing the same-sex marriage law as “a very destructive piece of legislation for family life and religious freedom both now and in the future,” and criticizing the Supreme Court for convicting a man of hate speech for distributing anti-gay pamphlets.

Asked about his role with the Catholic Civil Rights League, Horgan said, “I’m not sure how it will impact anything I do as a bencher with the law society.”

So what makes this slate “weird”? Predominantly, it seems to be the fact that many of them are Catholics, a detail that Mandel is doing her level best to cram down the reader’s throat in a way that makes it crystal clear how dangerous these rogue deacons and members of other shady papist cabals are. In fact, Mandel has it on pretty good authority that these Catholic lawyers do not wish to force anyone to say anything and believe that freedom of conscience is essential, which is a pretty bad look these days. Horgan protested these characterizations:

He dismissed worries their slate is pushing a hidden fundamentalist agenda. “We have some religious folk, Christians, Catholics, Jews, I don’t know everybody’s religious persuasion,” Horgan said. “We have people from across the political spectrum…who oppose compelled speech.”

Unlike the law society’s former board of directors, he doesn’t believe lawyers have a systemic racism problem. “I’m not persuaded of that,” he said. “I think the profession in Ontario is quite open.”

Lori Anne Thomas, president of the Canadian Black Lawyers Association (CABL), said it’s ironic that many of the same people opposed to the law society’s required statement of principles had no trouble with Trinity Western demanding students sign an agreement forbidding sex outside heterosexual marriage.

“The concern I have is that some — not all — of the StopSOP benchers might actually roll back some of the equality, diversity and inclusion efforts that have been made by the law society and make us feel even less wanted in the profession than we were before,” Thomas said. “We will be watching.”

Who thought that not believing in compelled speech could be so controversial.

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