Sometimes things do change.
To much debate this week the Law Society of Upper Canada, which has brandished this name for over two centuries, voted to change the name to drop “Upper Canada.”
It might seem a strange controversy to outsiders, who might be puzzled with the attachment to an acronym that spells “El-Suck,” or alternatively the need to spend what will likely be hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebranding and administrative expenses. But it has been one of the issues that has deeply divided the legal community now for years.
It really started in 2012, when Thomas Vincent, a government lawyer, introduced a motion to change the name on the basis that it was elitist and offensive to his indigenous roots. The Star reported at the time,
“It doesn’t reflect who we are or where we are,” Vincent said of the name — citing public confusion in locating the society or understanding its mandate, and negative sentiments conjured about colonial history and “privileged white males.”
Vincent did not mobilize the masses. He did not arrive with friends and colleagues in tow. He simply appeared, willing to face what was invariably going to be an onslaught of opposition.
In listening to the incredibly spurious arguments advanced against the motion, I focused on one thing that they all seemed to ignore – the law society governs in the interest of the public, not the legal professions or our tradition. I also spoke to The Star,
“We’re a self-regulated profession and the law society is there to protect the public when lawyers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. By having a name that doesn’t clearly embody Ontario or the services provided, Ha-Redeye said, “the law society is not fully meeting its mandate.”
Part of the challenge was that a significant number of the lawyers in attendance were far removed from the public, both in their practices and in their personal lives. Then, as now, the response to the argument that members of the public would be confused by the name was that there was no evidence to confirm this position. I told the Law Times at the time,
“Typically [those] law society members are dealing with highly educated and sophisticated individuals and so they may not be aware of people in the general public who might be confused by the name,” says Ha-Redeye. “In this case, I would say the absence of information doesn’t lead to a conclusion and we should study the issue further to see if there truly is a problem and then find the best way to address it.”
In the end, only 3 lawyers voted in support of the motion. Past President of the Ontario Bar Association at the time, Lee Akazaki, was also willing to take that brave stand. We were not popular people in that room on that day.
And then there was silence on the issue. Until the Strategic Communications Steering Group met in February 2017, and hired an external consultant to look into issues around stakeholder and public engagement. The findings, perhaps surprisingly, demonstrated that half of the licensees actually though the name “Upper Canada” was inappropriate for the regulator.
More importantly, their survey of over a thousand people across the province formerly known as Upper Canada revealed,
Many Ontarians are confused about the name the Law Society of Upper Canada as most do not know what it represents or do not like the words Upper Canada.
Despite these findings, there was still a lively debate this week prior to the debate. One individual featured quite prominently in the debate, the “hypothetical man selling sausages at the corner of Queen St. and University Ave. and his customers.” The sausage man was invoked over, and over again, by proponents of both sides of the debate, as if he were the man on the Clapham omnibus of old.
My friend and colleague Melayna Williams once told me that sometimes if you want to give a person a voice, all you have to do is pass the microphone. So I decided to ask the sausage man last night, selling his wares at the corner in front of the law society.
Here’s what he had to say.
We find out our new name in November. I’ll be sure to let the sausage man know.