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Acknowledgment of Systemic Discrimination
In the Fall of 2020, the Law Society of Alberta invited lawyers, articling students, law students and internationally trained lawyers (including those not yet called to the bar) to share their experiences of racial discrimination and stereotyping with us. Those who bravely shared their stories were also a voice for some who could not speak. Each submission impacted our organization and the legal profession more broadly.
The Law Society of Alberta acknowledges the existence and impact of systemic discrimination within the justice system, including within the Law Society and the legal profession. The Law Society views its core purpose as an active obligation and duty to uphold and protect the public interest in the delivery of legal services. We do this through our regulatory objectives, one of which is to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in the delivery of legal services.
When we use the term systemic discrimination, we mean policies, procedures and practices within systems and institutions that result in disproportionate opportunities or disadvantages for people with a common set of characteristics such as age, culture, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and/or socio-economic status. Systemic discrimination functions due to some of the inequitable principles historically embedded in our systems and institutions. Even if no individual members of the justice system engage in intentional discriminatory behaviour, the inequity embedded within the system still exists and results in disproportionate harmful impacts to those who are marginalized.
We recognize that systemic discrimination goes against principles of fairness that the legal profession values and upholds. Acknowledging that systemic discrimination exists within the Law Society, the legal profession and the justice system is a step towards improving how we protect the public interest and fulfill our regulatory objectives. Acknowledging the impact of systemic discrimination allows us to meaningfully continue the work of making the legal profession more equitable, increasing diversity and promoting inclusion. Where systemic discrimination manifests in policies, procedures and other work of the Law Society, we will identify this and address it.
The Law Society has made efforts to address issues in the legal profession and the justice system arising from historical, deep-rooted inequities. We know that many lawyers are committed to equity, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and are taking active steps to promote those ideals. However, through initiatives such as our Exit Surveys (2005–2010), the Articling Program Assessment Survey (2019), and the “My Experience” Project (2020–2021), we have heard the voices of those in the legal profession suffering from the disproportionate harmful impacts of systemic discrimination. We recognize and accept the need to take further steps to address systemic discrimination within the Law Society, the legal profession and the justice system.
The Law Society remains committed to reducing barriers created by racism, bias and discrimination, in order to affect long-term systems changes within our legal culture. We are committed to continuing our efforts to learn, to listen, to act and to lead Alberta’s legal profession by example. In collaboration with the legal profession, stakeholders and justice system partners, the Law Society will continue to work diligently towards building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive legal profession for all.
As part of our commitment to take further steps to address systemic discrimination, the Law Society will lead by example. We have already started this work by ensuring that our Benchers participated in training focused on unconscious bias and centering equity in their governance and decision-making roles, and by mandating that lawyers complete Indigenous Cultural Competency Education through The Path (Alberta).
In 2022, everyone within the Law Society, Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) and Alberta Lawyers Indemnity Association (ALIA) will also participate in similar training that will be tailored to incorporate department-specific material.
The Law Society will continue to work on a variety of projects around gathering equity, diversity and inclusion data, supporting vulnerable members of the profession, making our conduct proceedings more inclusive and collaborating with stakeholders to tackle systemic barriers to inclusion and respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call for law societies. The Law Society will also continue to offer complimentary workshops on discrete issues, such as cultural competence, to the profession. The Law Society will also continue to offer resources and updates on new projects.
Through ongoing actionable work in this area, the Law Society will continue to lead a profession that is representative of the public it serves.
The following initiatives highlight some stories and experiences shared by members of the legal profession in Alberta and throughout Canada.
|“My Experience” Project – Law Society of Alberta|
|“But I Look Like a Lawyer” – Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) – BC|
|“But I Was Wearing a Suit” – Grassroots project of a group of Indigenous lawyers, with the support of the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC and the Law Society of BC|
|“In Their Shoes” – CBA National|
We are in the process of gathering resources to assist the profession in understanding systemic discrimination, its various forms, its impact on different communities and how lawyers can combat its harmful impacts. These resources will be shared with the profession in the coming months.
The work of building a more inclusive profession is collective and as part of working together toward that goal, we invite lawyers and students-at-law to share resources that they have found helpful by sending them to our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Counsel.
If you have questions about our work in this area, please contact our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Counsel.
If you are a lawyer, articling student, law student or legal staff and you have questions about discrimination and harassment in the workplace, please contact our Equity Ombudsperson.
If you need to talk to someone or need support, we encourage you to reach out to the Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society (Assist).
Media contact: Communications department