A Criminal Lawyer's Statement of Principles

Perhaps you've heard the hubbub around the requirement in Ontario that lawyers adopt a Statement of Principles to express their commitment to reducing racial discrimination and other similar barriers to colleagues in the profession, clients, and the public.  

I've been thinking about both the uproar that it has caused in some circles and my own personal views. Personally, this is not a tough call for me. The Ontario Human Rights Code says that it is against the law to discriminate. That's a good law. As a country founded by immigrants on the backs of the First Nations, everyone who rises into the elite - which lawyers belong to in this country - should pay it forward. We need to aid those who want to join our profession and those who have historically paid the price for the rise of the mostly white, Anglo-Saxon communities that have historically benefited from a systemic preference built into the system.

Some question the presence of systemic barriers or privilege. To me, that is kind of like a fish questioning the existence of anything other than water. All a fish knows is water. Water exists all around. How can there anything but water? Everyone gets the benefit of the same water. 

Yet, some are born in the ocean, others in brooks and streams, still others on a fish farm and others in an aquarium. To question whether there are in fact built-in factors that favour some, even for generations, and don't favour others is to question the variables affecting nature and evolution itself. They exist. Get used to it.

It is quite another thing to say that yes, privilege, barriers and discrimination exist, unintentional though they may be, but so what. Tough bits. Get used to it. Before World War II or some other similar historical event, people just dealt with it. There were winners and losers. It's up to the losers to become winners. 

That is a political and philosophical question upon which reasonable people may disagree. I think that we are all better off when we pull together, give someone a leg up, and pay back the good fortune that has been visited upon us. Inevitably, to get ahead, at some point you've either been the benefit of good fortune - through your parents, upbringing, a favour, a teacher, someone who took an interest in you - or, pretty much, I'm guessing, you've cheated. Certain examples come to mind but let's just say that often it's those who falsely deny having ever gotten a favour or taken advantage that don't want to extend the courtesy to others. 

In any case, I have an obligation as a member of a privileged profession to adopt a Statement of Principles, and I'll gladly do it. As a lawyer, I will strive not to discriminate against employees, agents, colleagues, clients, or members of the public. If I can help to remove barriers facing others due to race, gender, disability, or the like, I will do so. In my professional practice, I will do my best not to rely on stereotypes or bias when pursuing a client's interests or aiding in the administration of justice. All of this, it is my belief, will aid in the principle aim of all lawyers - to continue to create a more just society.