Spotlight on the 25th anniversary of Touchstones

  • March 12, 2018

“In responding to gender bias, we will create a new, revitalized profession that reflects the values of equality and fairness and the diversity of the Canadian community. Our profession will be better able to operate in the interests of its diverse membership and in the public interest.” – Touchstones for Change: Equality, Diversity and Accountability

This year the CBA marks an important anniversary: 25 years ago we released a groundbreaking report on equality in the legal profession. The Touchstones report was the result of two years of work by a task force chaired by Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. Other members were Patricia Blocksom, Sophie Bourque, Daphne Dumont, John Hagar, Sharon McIvor, Alec Robertson, Q.C., and Corrine Sparks. Former CBA staff member Melina Buckley, with the research support of staff members Gaylene Schellenberg, Robin Geller and Susan Zimmerman, wrote the final report.

The task force set out to examine the role of women in profession and the impact of discriminatory practices; to offer a perspective on change and recommendations for achieving gender equality.

Touchstones left us with an important legacy:

  • The Association’s commitment to equality in every part of its governance, member services and programs, and operations, nationally and in the Branches.
  • Sections respond to equality issues, and we have specific sections for common interest groups through the Aboriginal Lawyers, Young Lawyers, SOGIC, French-Speaking Members and the Women Lawyers Forum.
  • Initiatives such as Measuring Diversity in the Profession; collecting self-identification information, including a requirement of diversity on our national board; requiring diversity on our professional development panels; partnering with other organizations to examine, and more importantly, to respond to the experiences of lawyers reflecting the diversity of our society, can all trace their way back to Touchstones.

We broke new ground with Touchstones, but we must continue to work to create a healthy, safe and prosperous space for all who would enjoy it. After all, the widespread and growing #MeToo movement is just one sign that we haven’t completely turned the tide in the larger society, let alone in the legal profession. (To see the recent series of articles on on this topic, search using #MeToo.)

The Counsel Network and CCCA collaborate every two years on a compensation survey. The 2018 results show shows that female in-house counsel continue to earn less than their male counterparts – the wage gap is smaller than it has been, but still stands at around 11 per cent, getting bigger the higher you go up the ladder. Ethnic diversity is still a challenge for the legal profession – 80 per cent of survey respondents identified as Caucasian.

As well, the Women Lawyers Forum is launching a national compensation survey this year to study the question of unequal pay.

Twenty-five years after Touchstones, let’s look at some of the lessons we can take away from the process:

  •  The CBA is made for this kind of investigation. It can and should take the lead in identifying systemic problems in the legal profession and attempting to find solutions.
  •  Touchstones was an exercise in engaging members and acting as one CBA. Along with the task force there were working groups in each of the Branches feeding into a pan-Canadian solution.
  •  It’s important to take a broad look at problems. The task force looked at barriers to equality and entry not just into the profession, but to law societies, the judiciary – the CBA itself. It saw inequality as a holistic issue.
  •  Problems intersect. The task force was mandated to focus on gender but it also talked about racism, disabilities and sexual orientation as barriers to equality.
  •  Working together isn’t always easy. There will be different points of view and there will have to be compromise and collaboration. This report was debated over four council meetings. It took two years to become CBA policy.

The last – and perhaps the most important – lesson learned is that the work doesn’t stop with the report. It is not the solution, but the first in an infinite number of steps toward a solution.