by Valli Chettiar
From inception, the BC Branch Equality Committee (the “Committee”) has striven to promote inclusiveness both within the Association and within the legal profession, to support the participation of lawyers from traditionally marginalized communities and to support the ability of law firms to respond appropriately to an increasingly diverse client base.
The Committee identifies issues within its mandate and makes recommendations to the BC Branch Executive. The Chair of the Committee also serves as a member on the Executive Committee, bringing an equity and diversity perspective to the policies and work of the Branch.
The Committee is currently examining issues such as the diversity implications of the proposed changes to the PLTC exam, an Ombuds Service, the implementation of the Report on Racial Equality, and a review of all BC Branch policies with a view to promoting equity and diversity issues.
The proposed changes to the PLTC exam, for example, present a challenge to advancing equity and diversity interests. The Committee is concerned that, among other impacts, students in law school may structure courses strictly to meet the demands of PLTC, which may ultimately result in the cancellation of courses which offer an other-than-mainstream perspective.
The inclusion of equity and diversity issues is nowhere more poignant than in the selection and recognition of exceptional lawyers. The Committee has expressed its concern that the process of selecting Queen’s Counsel appointments must include a diversity and equity analysis to ensure that recognition of exceptional lawyers truly reflects our best and brightest. In response, the Executive has established a Queen’s Counsel Appointments Committee, and will involve the Equality Committee in the nomination process.
Another area for concern of the Committee is the lack of information and statistics with respect to lawyers and their backgrounds. The Committee is interested in, as part of its ongoing work with other partners in the justice system, a survey of the current composition of the profession to support appropriate planning of programs and services for lawyers.
On September 18, 1999, the Committee held a joint meeting with the Equality Committee of the Provincial Judges of BC, and the Law Society of BC. Also in attendance were representatives from UBC and UVic Law Schools, the BC Supreme Court Justices, the Department of Justice, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and other organizations. As a result of this meeting, key justice system organizations have been better able to co-ordinate their efforts, form on-going communications plans and address areas of mutual future co-operation.
The Committee also performs a public awareness function, which complements the BC Branch’s “You Have Rights. Lawyers Protect Them.” campaign currently underway at the direction of Provincial Council. Through this role, the Committee strives to assist members to tailor their practices with members and clients from traditionally marginalized communities and, consequently, expand their existing client base and referral potential.
There are many activities going on, at all levels of the profession and society as a whole, related to equity, diversity and inclusiveness. If this work is of interest to you, or if you have a suggestion for the Committee, please contact the Chair or any member: Sabrina A. S. Ali; Shehni Dossa; Sandra Jakab-Hancock; Kenneth Kramer; Wynn Lewis; Margaret Ostrowski (Executive Liaison); Deirdre Rice; Dawn Shaw-Biswas; Perry Shawana; Susan Wallach; J. Jacy Wingson; Paul Winn; or Barbara Young.
Valli Chettiar is the chair of the BC Branch Equality Committee and the chair of the National CBA Racial Equality Implementation Committee.
This article was published in the April 2000 issue of BarTalk. © 2000 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.