MANDEL: Is the Ontario law society too ‘woke’? Election battle begins

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Woke is the word and it’s being used to demarcate the bitter lines drawn in the battle for governing control of the Law Society of Ontario.

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Lawyers across the province begin voting Wednesday to elect 40 lawyers and five paralegal directors who will serve four years at the helm of the self-regulating profession. The FullStop slate of candidates has declared the LSO has “lost its way” and must be stopped from ttreating members with discipline for “colouring outside the lines of approved groupthink.”

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In a column for the Financial Postfor example, noted employment lawyer Howard Levitt said he’s running as a FullStop bencher candidate because “the Ontario law society’s slide into wokeness must be stopped.”

In the other corner, is the Good Governance Coalition, endorsed by about two dozen legal associations including the Criminal Lawyers Association, which says it values ​​“diversity over division” and it’s time to “return decorum to Convocation and elect serious people up for a serious job.”

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Lawyers — professionals known for displaying diplomacy, civility and dignity? Not in this polarizing election. The mudslinging by both sides has been intense.

Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt has called FullStop a “group of deeply unserious and dangerous children.” One FullStop candidate has been accused of changing his law office address to a Toronto auto body shop so he would qualify to run in Toronto.

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The Good Governance Coalition has called the FullStop slate “unfit to govern.”

In turn, the coalition has been criticized as “the establishment endorsing the establishment,” an elitist “aristocracy” and a “cult” bent on social engineering and policing speech.

Osgoode Hall law professor Trevor Farrow believes much is at stake, including self-regulation.

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“This is probably the most important and certainly the most controversial bencher election that’s probably ever happened,” he said. “The visions of the two groups of lawyers are so different and will have radical implications for the future of the legal profession in Ontario.

“One group of lawyers is interested in strong regulation and really improving the diversity of our profession,” he said. “On the other hand is a group of lawyers, through their election materials, who resonate a lot like the populist US political rhetoric that is happening right now — using language like stopping ‘creep’, stopping ‘woke’.”

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FullStop evolved from the 2019 election’s StopSOP slate — a group that elected 22 benchers on its promise to repay society’s controversial requirement for a compulsory”statement of principles” where lawyers had to acknowledge their “obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

Now FullStop warns the mandate could be resurrected and at stake is the same kind of “reeducation” of lawyers suffered by their hero Jordan Peterson at the hands of the College of Psychologists.

The law professor says those are “red herrings” being slung by FullStop to wrongly suggesting that law society is descending into thought police and authoritarian rule. “I just don’t think that’s true,” Farrow said.

“No member of the Good Governance has any intention of bringing back the statement of principles. Zero,” insisted LSO bencher Jonathan Rosenthal who is running for re-election.

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As for claims the law society is pushing a “woke” agenda that must be stopped, Rosenthal admits being confused.

“I am not sure what woke means. The Supreme Court of Canada, former Chief Justice Strathy, Minister Mendocino and even the Peel Regional Police have acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in the justice system.

“If acknowledging the existence of systemic racism in the justice system makes me woke, go ahead and call me woke.”

The online election runs until April 28 with results announced May 1.

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