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ONTARIO: Visible minority lawyers claim to be facing ‘constant and persistent’ discrimination

Minority lawyers face discrimination, report finds

Lawyers from visible minorities face ‘constant and persistent’ discrimination in Ontario

The Canadian Press Posted: Nov 12, 2014 6:43 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 12, 2014 9:02 PM ET

Discrimination is an everyday reality for black and other visible minority lawyers that must be addressed, according to a new report by the body that regulates the profession in Ontario.

The blunt Law Society of Upper Canada report, titled “Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees,” contains some disquieting findings.

“Overt discrimination and bias are a feature of daily life,” the paper concludes.

“Racialization is a constant and persistent factor.”

Ontario’s legal profession has seen an increase of visible minority lawyers in recent decades. Latest figures indicate about 17 per cent of lawyers — and 28 per cent of paralegals — are not white, up from about 9.2 per cent in 2001.

In 2012, the law society set up a working group to study the issue of racism and discrimination in its ranks.

Despite the dramatic increase in minority numbers, professional acceptance is still hard to come by, according to the study.

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Minority participants in the study complained that colleagues, judges and clients commonly assumed they were incompetent or ineffective. They talked about being shut out from professional opportunities or excluded from workplace social gatherings.

Last year, for example, Ontario’s top court found that two black lawyers had been racially profiled in 2008 when an administrator at a lawyers-only lounge at a courthouse in Brampton, northwest of Toronto, asked them — and only them — to identify themselves.

‘Pity’ interviews

Criminal lawyer Gordon Cudjoe, the sole black student in his class when he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1999, said classmates received 10 to 15 articling interviews. He received only four, two of them “pity” interviews — none on Bay Street. During his entire articling years, he was kept away from clients.

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Law society data show black lawyers disproportionately practise in the smallest firms. Relatively few black lawyers practise in the largest firms.

“There are firms that believe if they hire black lawyers they will lose their clients,” one participant said.

Further challenges for women

The report found paralegal minorities face similar, possibly more serious discrimination than their lawyer counterparts, and minority women have it especially rough.

“Women are still working to be taken seriously in this profession and being a racialized woman means that you often have even more to prove,” one female lawyer said.

The law society is now asking for written feedback before next March on a series of approaches aimed at improving the professional experience of minority lawyers.

One idea would be to require firms and organizations with lawyers to adopt standards set by the law society for the recruitment, retention and career advancement of minorities.

The society is also asking for input on how it should deal with discrimination complaints, and the best way to gather accurate demographic data —including whether to force firms to supply such information.

Aboriginal lawyers, subject of a separate report, were not included as part of this study.

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