Q: Beyond any issues Howe himself has raised during the hearings, the issue of systemic racism in the justice system is clearly an issue of public interest. As you know, the Law Society of Upper Canada yesterday released a report yesterday “designed to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions.” What specifically is the Bar Society doing to tackle those issues?
A (Darrel Pink, Executive Director): Forgive the lengthy response that follows for this question. We have been involved in addressing issues of racism and discrimination in the legal profession and the administration of justice for a long time. It has been a personal priority of mine and has consistently been emphasized by the Society’s leadership. We recognise that, no matter how far we have come, there remains more work to be done. The selection of Viola Desmond to be on a Canadian bank note is a reminder to all of us of that fact.
The Society’s mandate as the public interest regulator of the legal profession has long required us to be at the forefront of these issues in Nova Scotia. We have been working diligently on these very issues for more than 20 years, initially in response to the Marshall Commission recommendations.
That’s when we began to develop our Equity & Access Office and established our Race Relations Committee, which is now called the Racial Equity Committee (REC). We’re the only law society in Canada that has this kind of permanent standing committee. It includes volunteer lawyers and non-lawyers who meet regularly and contribute to all aspects of our policy and program advancements.
The Society has a well-established and internationally recognized commitment to equity, cultural competence and addressing issues of systemic racism and discrimination in the legal profession. It’s built into the fabric of all we do here and it requires a daily, full-on commitment. Here are some examples of ‘what specifically the Bar Society is doing”:
- The Society’s Strategic Framework – which guides all of our activities for 2016-2019 – focuses significantly on equity, diversity, inclusion, cultural competence, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action. Even with all the resources we have expended, we remain committed to promoting freedom from discrimination in the delivery of legal services and the justice system, and improving access to legal services and the justice system.
- Here’s more detail on the Racial Equity Committee: Its mandate is to support Council in the governance of the Society by monitoring and providing advice about programs that address issues of racism and discrimination in the legal profession and in relation to access to justice, including programs to increase access to the legal profession. Current REC members are listed here; also see the group’s Terms of Reference. The REC’s co-chair is also one of two Society appointees to the provincial Advisory Board on Judicial Appointments.
As just one example of the REC’s work, for the past eight years it has fostered law school research and scholarship on issues of race and law through the annual Race and the Law Essay Prize.
- Through the Equity & Access Office, established in 1997, the Society seeks to improve the administration of justice by addressing racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in the legal profession. This is done by way of numerous efforts to ensure the legal profession adequately reflects the public it serves in Nova Scotia, in advocating for enhanced access to legal services and the justice system for equity-seeking and economically disadvantaged groups, and many other initiatives.
This past April, the budget passed by Council for the current year included greater investment in prioritizing our equity and access activities, such as the following:
- Community engagement – Our groundbreaking #TalkJustice project has been bringing the public voice into justice system reform since early 2015 in Nova Scotia. We have focused on equity-seeking communities in particular. It’s already resulting in better collaboration across the justice system. We’ve managed recently to bring the DOJ, Courts of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Legal Aid and the law school onboard as collaborators in the new phase of the project. (The media cultural competence panel we’re planning at King’s for January 27 is a direct result of public input from the first phase of #TalkJustice.) We also have an ongoing relationship with the United Way and many other community organizations that are assisting in our efforts to improve access to legal services, particularly for equity-seeking communities.
- The Equity & Access Office supports new Mi’kmaq clerks through the Ku’TawTinu: Shared Articling Initiative with the Schulich School of Law. A similar initiative is currently in development for African Nova Scotian articled clerks.
- Equity & Access Officer Emma Halpern is a member of the Advisory Council for the Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative at the Schulich School of Law.
- The Society’s advocacy and engagement with residents of the Prestons has strengthened efforts to resolve historic land title issues for African Nova Scotian communities across the province. The Equity & Access Office plays an important advisory role in the Land Title Clarification Pilot Program in the Preston area. For more detail on the Society’s involvement, see:
- a March 14 media advisory from the provincial Natural Resources department;
- Untitled: The Legacy of Land in North Preston, an investigative media project by journalism students at NSCC;
- Free wills clinics for seniors in Preston area;
- a sample of archived media coverage here and here. Public interest remains strong, with ongoing media coverage as recently as this week:
- Nova Scotia students wade into a title fight: Many descendants of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia don’t have legal title to the land they’ve been living on for generations
Macleans | December 8, 2016, by Emily Baron Cadloff
- The Equity & Access section of the 2016 Annual Report offers a detailed look at ongoing work, as does the most recent Equity & Access Monitoring Report (May 11, 2016)
- This past June, the Equity & Access Office was recognized with a national Zenith Award for advancing diversity and inclusion in Nova Scotia.
- Legal Services Regulation: Lawyers across the province have volunteered thousands of hours this past year to assist the Society in our mission to modernize regulation. The new model, now being tested in a pilot project this fall and winter, is a move away from the traditional prescriptive, reactive rules toward a more principled, proportional and proactive approach that we are calling ‘Triple P’. Equality, diversity and cultural competence are critical components in several key ways:
- Regulatory Objectives: These six objectives clarify the Society’s purpose and key parameters of legal services regulation. This is #5: “Promote diversity, inclusion, substantive equality and freedom from discrimination in the delivery of legal services and the justice system.”
- Management System for Ethical Legal Practice: As part of our new approach to regulation, we will be asking all legal service providers in the province to reflect on how they are doing in 10 areas. A self-assessment tool is in the pilot testing phase right now.
- Element 9 was created in consultation with the Racial Equity and Gender Equity Committees. It provides detailed suggestions and resources to help lawyers and firms ensure they are “committed to improving diversity, inclusion and substantive equality and ensure freedom from discrimination in the delivery of legal services and the justice system.”
- Element 10 requires reflection on the degree to which your legal entity “encourages public respect for, and tries to improve, the administration of justice and the enhancement of access to legal services.”
- A significant new Professional Standard in Equity and Diversity, which all lawyers are expected to adhere to, was added to the Society’s Professional Standards in Law Office Management this past summer.
- The Equity Portal is a comprehensive online platform designed to assist legal service providers in developing cultural competence and building equity strategies in their practices. Launched in December 2015, the portal contains toolkits, model policies, assessments, articles, cultural competence training videos, a reference library and much more. It will continue to evolve; here’s the initial announcement for a summary of what we hope it will accomplish. A new section of ‘trauma-informed lawyering’ resources is in development.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #27 asks law societies across Canada to ensure all lawyers receive appropriate cultural competence training. Significant efforts are underway in Nova Scotia, including the following:
- All articled clerks receive cultural competence education as part of our Skills Course.
- The Society is also creating a cultural competence education module for lawyers throughout the Maritimes in collaboration with law societies in New Brunswick and PEI.
- The Society has been providing mandatory full-day cultural competence workshops for Society staff and volunteers, including members of Council, committee chairs and specific committees such as the Hearing and Complaints Investigation Committees.
- We are seeing an increasing demand to facilitate cultural competence education. As a new addition to our current curriculum, the Equity & Access Office will partner with community and government organizations to increase education around issues of trauma.
- The NSBS CPD Requirement calls upon lawyers to create professional development plans that include cultural competence education.
- Building cultural competence in the legal profession was the focus of the Spring 2016 issue of The Society Record magazine; Restorative Justice was the featured topic in the Fall 2015 edition. Past editions are archived online and provide an excellent recap of our ongoing equity and access work through the years.
From where we sit, this list seems like just a very quick snapshot of the Society’s ongoing – and longstanding – commitment to addressing equity, inclusion and diversity in the legal profession and justice system. We can provide numerous examples of our work that addresses other forms of discrimination:
- our objection to Trinity Western University’s admission policies that discriminate against LGBT students;
- a groundbreaking Fitness to Practise program that is unique in Canada, and provides an alternate complaints resolution process for lawyers who may be dealing with mental health or other issues that impact upon their capacity to practise law;
- … the list goes on, but we have to wrap this up!
Many thanks for your interest, Stephen. If you have any further questions about any of the above, please don’t hesitate to ask. We would also encourage you and your readers to follow the Society’s continuing progress: