By Neha Chugh, Coalition candidate
In the third week of April lawyers and paralegals will have the opportunity to go to the polls to elect Benchers to govern the Law Society of Ontario.
I am running with the Good Governance Coalition, comprised of experienced lawyers and paralegals who reflect our professions’ diversity—how we practice, where we live, and who we are. While we are running together as colleagues, the thread that binds us is a collective commitment to restoring the basic foundations of governance back to the Law Society: thoughtful analysis of issues, respectful debate, and taking fiduciary responsibilities seriously so we may continue to self-regulate.
In the last election, a slate of candidates, unfocused on the LSO’s important responsibilities almost took over our self-regulating body. Important regulatory discussions and complex policy decisions traditionally decided by benchers in a somber and thoughtful way, has been replaced by slate members’ attitudes of nonchalance, and unseemly heckling, jeering, and name-calling.
As a small firm owner managing a legal aid practice and a young family, a woman of colour, practicing law in Eastern Ontario, I have felt a dissonance between my needs as a lawyer and the chaos that has nearly consumed the Law Society since 2019. While lawyers of all ages and stages managed their practices and tried to keep their selves and families safe during the pandemic, the Law Society was paralyzed thanks to the slate. In other words, when we needed our Law Society the most, the Slate was instead focused on in-fighting and disrespect.
It has been discouraging to watch from afar as slate members’ attempted to dismantle progress, tradition, and history. It was difficult to read a slate member’s offensive Tweets, directed towards a young Black lawyer. It is this kind of behaviour that puts our ability to self-regulate at risk if the slate takes over the LSO.
The Good Governance Coalition was formed to stop the vote-splitting on which the slate depends I am hopeful that in 2023, the Coalition can put the Slate’s deleterious impact on the Law Society in the past.
But there’s another reason I believe the slate will be unsuccessful. And for that, I look to Alberta.
Earlier this month, I watched on social media as in the Law Society of Alberta vote on a resolution to end the its ability to require lawyers to take Indigenous training.
About 100 people attend a normal annual general meeting of the Law Society of Alberta—if they’re lucky. But this meeting saw more than 3,500 vote.
This gave me great hope. Because lawyers and paralegals don’t support the divisive politics of the slate, or its counterparts in Alberta.
In overwhelming numbers, they voted against the petition to end the Law Society’s ability to mandate Indigenous training. In so doing, they not only underlined their commitment to equal treatment, professionalism, and competency that defines our profession, but showed that they care deeply about its traditional and sacred role to self-regulate in the public interest.
This is why I’m so optimistic that this year’s Bencher election won’t be a repeat of the past. There is a groundswell has amongst lawyers and paralegals that says equal treatment is not only a regulator’s business, but a collective and core responsibility. Our regulator must show it values equity, diversity, and inclusion, if it’s to retain a cherished right to self-regulate. A right that’s been lost in Britain and Australia, and which is also in question closer to home, in British Columbia.
It is for this reason that our Alberta colleagues turned out in massive numbers—35 times the attendance of a typical meeting —to defeat a resolution in a landslide.
I have every confidence that Ontario lawyers and paralegals will do the same when they vote in April. Let’s get out the vote and ensure that we restore good governance back to the Law Society of Ontario – in a landslide.
Neha Chugh is a lawyer in Cornwall. The views in this column are her own.