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John Arkelian

Central East Electoral Region (CE)
John Arkelian

Candidate bio description

My professional experience has run the gamut from international diplomacy to courtroom advocacy. I have represented Canada abroad as a diplomat, responsible for political, security, and consular relations. I have advised the Government of Canada on issues of international and constitutional law, co-authored Canada’s brief in the infamous Sidney Jaffe international kidnapping case, instructed Canada’s delegation to NATO, and drafted both new federal legislation and international treaties. As a Federal Crown Attorney, I conducted criminal prosecutions in Toronto’s busiest courtrooms. As a Professor of Law and Journalism, I taught such subjects as defamation, copyright, and criminal procedure. As an award-winning public interest author and journalist, I have written extensively on international relations, public policy, and law reform.

What inspired you to run for bencher this year?

The Law Society is in desperate need of reform. The face the Law Society projects to its members is one of unaccountable and undemocratic governance -- the face of an organization that is impenetrable, heavy-handed, bureaucratic, curt, and coldly unreceptive to input by its members. The Society ought to reinvent itself to present a more humane, collegial face. To start, it should request the government to amend the Society’s mandate. In addition to protecting the public interest, the revised mandate should also direct the Society to protect the interests of both the legal profession and Law Society members. A paramountcy clause would stipulate that in the event of a conflict between those objectives, protection of the public interest would take priority.

What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?

Our system of justice is premised upon the fiction that people can pursue their rights through the courts. But most people cannot begin to afford to retain a lawyer for litigation cases. Consequently, too many people are obliged to abandon their rights altogether or to struggle to represent themselves. That renders our system of justice a dysfunctional failure. The Law Society must urgently seek ways of addressing this unacceptable situation. For example, would it help to increase the funding and the coverage of Ontario Legal Aid? If so, the Society should vigorously advocate those changes.

What would be your first priority upon election?

The Society’s charter should also explicitly state that a key function of Benchers is to serve as representatives of the Society’s members, accountable to them (perhaps through some kind of forced recall provision) and readily accessible to their concerns. At present, Society members are without any meaningful input into their own governance. Provision used to exist for any member to easily petition Convocation on issues of concern. However, it appears that procedure was quietly discontinued, leaving members without any mechanism for getting a complaint, concern, request, or proposal before the body empowered to govern them. Every member should have an absolute right to communicate any matter directly to Convocation and to promptly have said matter deliberated upon and decided by Convocation.

What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?

I As a Bencher my goal would be to vigorously advocate for institutional reform and to make myself available as a representative for any member of the Law Society, anywhere in Ontario – bringing forward their concerns or suggestions to the governing body. For example, tangible, measurable, and enforceable methodologies need to be devised and implemented to ensure that members are treated with courtesy. A letter from the Law Society should never induce a feeling of dread. Fairness, civility, and cordiality should be the sine qua non of all Law Society interactions with its members. The Law Society should look and act the part of an open, accountable, and modern regulatory organization, and not act the part of a medieval ‘Inquisition’ through terse, arbitrary, or needlessly threatening communications with its members. Cordiality (of both tone and practice) should extend even to those who may be under investigation for possible infractions of professional obligations. And, in an effort to get more members involved in their own governance, a new term limit should restrict any member from serving as a Bencher for more than two terms over the course of their career.

What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?

Continuing legal education (CLE) is a positive thing to encourage. But, instead of imposing ever stricter mandatory requirements (of a specific number of hours of officially-sanctioned programming), why not instead create meaningful incentives to encourage members to undertake, of their own volition, as much continuing legal as they can? Incentives like cumulative reductions in malpractice insurance premiums and membership fees could serve as a tangible benefit for the documented completion of CLE programs. Encouraging members to maintain their lifelong learning activities is better than coercing them. One thing the Society has done right recently is to offer an array of free CLE programs. But there are far too few free ones! Most other programs (offered by the Society or by other providers) are onerously expensive for some members. And CLE programs need to be offered in members’ own regions, not just in distant downtown Toronto. Also, the cost of Society membership fees and malpractice insurance is grossly excessive. Every function of the Society ought to be carefully scrutinized in an effort to reduce the size and cost of the Society’s bureaucracy. For example, maybe the Society could utilize a collective management model and do without a CEO and a Treasurer.

Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?

The Law Society is unduly meddlesome in matters that go far beyond its actual mandate. The statement of principles that we really need is one governing the behavior of the Law Society itself. Tangible, measurable, and enforceable methodologies need to be devised and implemented to ensure that members are treated with courtesy. A letter from the Law Society should never induce a feeling of dread. Fairness, civility, and cordiality should be the sine qua non of all Law Society interactions with its members. The Law Society should look and act the part of an open, accountable, and modern regulatory organization, and not act the part of a medieval ‘Inquisition’ through terse, arbitrary, or needlessly threatening communications with its members. Cordiality (of both tone and practice) should extend even to those who may be under investigation for possible infractions of professional obligations.

Poll Question


What do you see as the top issue that prospective benchers need to address if they are elected?