Groups band together to eliminate Law Society's discriminatory good character requirement

·3 min read

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Indigenous Bar Association (IBA) are banding together to eliminate the Law Society of Manitoba’s good character requirement.

To become a licensed lawyer or paralegal, individuals need to fulfil the good character requirement whereby they disclose a large amount of deeply personal information about themselves.

Both CCLA and IBA believe that this requirement is an unnecessary obstacle that disproportionally harms individuals who are Indigenous, Black and other marginalized groups.

“We are here to draw attention to the fact that some of Canada’s Law Society have requirements that act as a barrier for some students from being called into the bar,” said Verna George Special Advisor on Indigenous Issues at the CCLA during a virtual conference on Wednesday.

“In our view, this is not in Canada’s aspirations to achieve truth and reconciliation within Indigenous peoples of this country.”

The CCLA and IBA are calling on the Law Society of Manitoba to revisit and revise the good character requirement. A brief was sent to the Law Society on Tuesday.

“In its current form, the process is discriminatory and intrusive. It violates individual privacy, and it undermines the Law Society’s goals of truth and reconciliation, and diversity and inclusion,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv Director of the Equality Program at the CCLA.

The inclusion of the requirement was brought to attention most recently by Manitoba Indigenous students who have concerns about what the process did to Indigenous students of law.

This process has resulted in many Indigenous people having to avoid practicing law altogether due to the disclosure of personal information.

Information often asked in the process included whether the individuals were ever suspended for misconduct by a post-secondary institution or if they were ever permitted to resign from a job due to allegations against them.

Also, the process requires individuals to expose all their contacts with police and the criminal justice system although Indigenous groups are often racially profiled, and face unfair and overly harsh treatments within the system because of colonialism, racism and systemic discrimination.

“The Indian Act made it illegal until 1951 to hire or become a lawyer if you are an Indigenous person. Therefore we are continuing to fight and bring down these barriers so our people can have access to justice,” said Alyson Bear from the Indigenous Bar Association.

“Indigenous people are underrepresented in the legal profession but over-represented in the criminal justice system. This indicates that the racial profiling that continues to happen makes it harder for Indigenous people to succeed, and therefore, this issue needs to be addressed.”

The CCLA and IBA will also be reaching out to the Law Society of Alberta and Saskatchewan on the same matter.

Law Society of Manitoba’s Communications Officer Deirdre O’Reilly said the Law Society acknowledges that the good character disclosures may disproportionately affect individuals from marginalized groups and plans to give careful consideration to the request.

“The Law Society welcomes opportunities to reflect on our policies and find better ways to do things,” she said.

“We are committed to engaging with lawyers and students from other racialized and marginalized groups in Manitoba as we balance our mandate to protect the public interest with our commitment to achieve greater equity and diversity within the legal profession.”

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun