When I stepped into the role of OBA President last year, my focus was crystal clear. Above all else, I wanted to promote and advance equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the profession.
Now, a year later, I find myself reflecting on the progress we have made as a profession and appreciating how the OBA is a home for all lawyers where EDI only stands to grow and flourish.
I know we will never stop – nor should we stop – the fight for equality and inclusion. I do, however, think it is important to take opportunity at times to celebrate our successes. Over the past year, I have had the great privilege of seeing and experiencing first-hand how the profession continues to rally around EDI.
Here is some of what I am proud to have seen and been a part of during my year-long term as OBA President:
The 3rd Annual Diversity Conferencein Partnership with the Roundtable of Diversity Organizations, which was followed by a well-attended reception that featured a keynote presentation from the Honourable Justice Michael Tulloch of the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The creation of a five-part Inclusive Leader Series. Not only was this certificate course accredited for the new EDI hours required by the Law Society of Ontario, but it was free to members. The series enjoyed overwhelming success with more than 1,000 registrants and attracted lawyers from all practice areas.
The offer of free section membership to the Women Lawyers Forum in honour of International Women’s Day. As a way to strengthen those parts of our organization that promote EDI, the OBA offered free section membership to the Women Lawyers Forum in March. More than 440 members responded and are now a part of a network that is advocating for women’s issues and advancing the fair treatment of women in the profession.
Rainbow tabs in support of Pride. During Pride Month, the OBA’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law Section made rainbow tabs available for lawyers and their community to wear at pride parades across the province. The printable versions of the rainbow tabs were downloaded by more than 150 individuals, and we saw their popularity spread on social media. Even the Honourable George R. Strathy, Chief Justice of Ontario and then-LSO Treasurer Paul Schabas wore the rainbow tabs.
I was honoured to be invited to participate in the Law Society of Ontario’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Video. As someone who has championed EDI, it was important for me to recognize that “when I get up in the morning, I get to put on a suit and go to work and, when my racialized colleagues get up in the morning, they have to put on a suit of armour.”
It was also a year in which the long road to equality, diversity, inclusion, and fairness had a few distinct markers. The Law Society of Ontario’s requirement for licensees to sign a Statement of Principles led to a public and divisive debate. I was proud to lead the OBA’s response in supporting the statement and its intentions. As a profession, we have seen battle after battle where the currency in the war chest of legal principles can be used to purchase either shields to protect the privileged or weapons of change for the advancement of others. I am glad our regulator ultimately chose to defend the language of change.
Donald Trump’s travel ban was among the most explicit and brazen attacks on the principles of fairness and equality that we have seen on this continent in a generation. I was proud to see the profession on the frontlines of the battle for justice and honoured to provide this year’s OBA President’s Award to the Canadian Cross Border Legal Coalition. They took the fight beyond the courtroom to airport waiting rooms across the country. They saw the rule of law being neglected, they saw people’s rights and civil liberties being tread upon and instantly they saw the lawyer’s role in upholding our social contract. They did not hesitate to act, with every legal weapon they could find, to make lives better.
I am ever mindful that unfairness and inequality are chronic conditions, and this fight is a daily one. I am honoured to have spent this year helping to author what I hope will be a meaningful sentence in an epic novel that will end in inclusion, equality and diversity. The OBA will keep writing.