Problem #5 - The SOP is a Symbol of SubmissionVáclav Havel, the political dissident, prisoner, and eventual politician, wrote about the nature of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in his essay The Power of the Powerless. He described a submissive greengrocer putting a sign in his shop window, declaring “Workers of the World, Unite!” – the sign acted as a shield to protect him from potential informers and a signal to the authoritarian regime above him that he had fallen in line and would not cause trouble.
But this virtue-signalling, this ‘going along to get along’, only fed the authoritarian government’s power by demonstrating that the people were afraid to stand up to an ideology that demanded conformity. Ideology in such societies, Havel wrote, “has a natural tendency to disengage itself from reality, to create a world of appearances, to become ritual,” while at the same time becoming an increasingly important component of power. The greengrocer’s ritualistic action in putting up the sign perpetuated this power over him, while simultaneously stripping him of his dignity as an individual.
No, the Law Society of Ontario isn’t communist Czechoslovakia. But the Statement of Principles has a whiff of “Workers of the World, Unite!” And the consequences of failing to check the box, to put the sign in the window as it were, are not benign.
When a government, or regulator, needs to bully and intimidate its citizens into submission and demand a symbol of obeisance, you know you are on the road to tyranny. That bullying was evident from the very birth of the SOP, and it continues today against anyone who dares to dissent.
In December 2016, when the Equity Advisory Group presented its thirteen recommendations including the Statement of Principles to Convocation, it was made clear to benchers that this was a complete package. No questioning of the individual components would be countenanced. Bencher Sidney Troister brought a motion to separate out the Statement of Principles requirement, expressing concern about the compelled speech and violation of our Charter freedoms of conscience and belief, and was subjected to bullying (see Professor Cockfield’s paper at page 15):
"According to the Dissenting Benchers (and at least one Majority Bencher), they faced terrible “bullying” (their word) to vote in favor of the SOP. They were told by other benchers and SOP-supporting lawyers that no dissent is possible, and that the benchers must demonstrate their commitment against racism by unanimously supporting the passage of the SOP. Moreover, they were also told there was no room to change anything surrounding any of the recommendations."Although Troister was joined by a couple of brave benchers in bringing and supporting the motion, namely Anne Vespry and Jeffrey Lem, it ultimately failed. The entire package was passed by a vote of 47-0, with three abstentions.
The message was clear: the Statement of Principles was not to be challenged. Nor were the people who were pushing it.
In December 2017, Bencher Joseph Groia brought a motion to allow for a conscientious objection to the SOP. It was expressed by several benchers, both for and against the motion, that the SOP was meaningless compelled speech, and it was deeply divisive. Groia said, in referring to those opposing the SOP on principle: "Let's be perfectly clear. Those men and women fully support the goals of greater equality and diversity, so I hope that in our debate today no one will suggest that they do not.” Some, however, did so suggest. As Bencher Avvy Go stated, “I'm voting no in honour of the many conscientious lawyers and paralegals who object to being part of a profession that perpetuates white privilege and yet refuses to acknowledge the existence of racism.”
Anne Vespry, who seconded Groia’s motion, made an impassioned plea: “Sadly, what has become quite clear is that there are at least an equal number of people wrapping themselves in the flag of equity, diversity, inclusion, who are acting in their everyday lives in a manner to exclude, marginalize, or bully anyone who dares to express a different opinion, and that, in my opinion, is a betrayal of what they're proposing….It is my hope that my fellow Benchers consider diversity, including diversity of experience and thought, and support this motion so that I and others like me do not need to look for a new career a few years down the line from now.”
Once again compromise was not to be entertained. The motion failed.
StopSOP candidates and organizers have been taking considerable heat as well – having our position grossly misrepresented; facing attempts to shut us down; being called racists and bigots on social media and even in the Law Times; and being mocked for being "old white men" (those not fitting that category dismissed as “tokens”).
Corey Shefman, the organizer of a Pro-SOP website, was quoted in the Law Times as saying, “We can’t be complacent in the face of bigotry.” In other words, the only possible reason you could be opposing a compelled Statement of Principles is that you, and many esteemed and decent people of principle in our professions, are racists and bigots. You would think that lawyers, of all people, could have a rational discussion of issues. You would be mistaken.
Read Mr. Shefman’s response below, and consider:
When citizens (and even dissident members of the governing body) cannot ask questions, cannot bring motions without being bullied, cannot run in a democratic election without being vilified, then perhaps what you are questioning isn’t an ‘initiative’ but an ‘orthodoxy.’
The StopSOP slate of candidates stands for individual rights and freedoms for ALL members of the professions. We believe that jealously guarding those freedoms is critical for the protection of minorities who may find themselves at the mercy of an intolerant majority.
We will not put a sign in the window and hand over those hard-fought freedoms willingly.