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John Fagan

City of Toronto Electoral Region
John Fagan

Candidate bio description

I was in small-firm general legal practice, mostly in the former City of North York, for 16+ years after my 1975 Call to the Bar. I then spent 19+ years, until my 2011 retirement, based in Oshawa as a roving Tax Prosecutor for the Attorney General of Ontario. I’m U of T Law ’73. I belong to the Canadian Bar Association, to the Toronto and Durham law associations, and to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. I’ve run for office several times for the NDP, including provincially in 2011 and 2014; young people are now taking charge on that front. In law and in riding politics, I’ve always enjoyed mentoring the new recruits. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I migrated to Canada in 1969, during the Vietnam War.

What inspired you to run for bencher this year?

After the announcement by The Law Society of its well-intended but misguided “Statement of Principles” requirement, it became evident to me that a new set of benchers, pledged to get the requirement repealed as soon as possible, was needed. The “Statement of Principles” requirement is an instance of unjustified compelled speech, and, for that reason alone, should never have been imposed. (As a person of the left, and of a certain age, I am vibrantly aware that threats to free speech in North America once came mostly from the right; times change, but the need to stand up for free speech does not.) Beyond that, the requirement is simply poor policy: the requirement will never assist anyone to achieve any actual advancement in the legal profession; as long as the requirement remains on the books, it will continue to cause damaging and distracting resentment and uproar, which will interfere with progress in achieving the announced aims of The Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion program. I want the effort to overcome any residual racism which may still be lurking in the Ontario legal profession to succeed as soon as possible, not be hampered any longer by the “Statement of Principles” controversy.

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

In the short term, the most urgent issue facing the legal profession in Ontario is the need to get The Law Society’s “Statement of Principles” requirement repealed as soon as possible. If we don’t get the requirement repealed quickly by democratic means, and we have to leave it to the courts to extinguish it for us, the general public will have the right to wonder whether we know what we’re doing at all, in running our own profession. Once the urgent matter of repealing the “Statement of Principles” requirement has been attended to, we can and should turn our attention to the huge and long-festering (and much tougher to solve) issue of the unacceptably high financial costs involved at all stages in producing lawyers, and in their thereafter being able to provide legal services. Lawyers’ educational and operating costs have grown so high that their consequently necessarily high fee levels are beyond the capacity of most potential clients to pay. This is an access to justice issue of the highest order. Far too many people have been trying to wrestle with their legal problems without lawyers’ assistance. An unwise step in attempted response to this problem has been the recent move toward replacing lawyers with paralegals in further aspects of family law work. Then, too, high operating costs have also led to the phenomenon of law firms with portfolios of corporate-commercial work being tempted to send parts of such work “offshore,” to non-Ontario lawyers with lower operating costs. Cost issues have also contributed mightily to the shortage of decently-paid articling positions in the province. The shortage of such positions has caused some to ruminate about abandoning articling as a required step in the bar admission process. Replacing lawyers with paralegals, sending legal work offshore, abandoning articling? There must be ways for us to attack the problem of the costs of providing legal services in Ontario, without our having to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I would add that until we solve this excessive costs problem, young lawyers who lack family or other financial backup when they are trying to start out, will continue to find it very hard to make it through. It is not happy reading in the early pages of each weekly edition of the Ontario Reports these days, where one after another of our recently-called colleagues is reported as having dropped out of the profession.

What would be your first priority upon election?

Clearly, getting The Law Society’s “Statement of Principles” requirement repealed would be the first priority, in terms of timing, because the presence on the scene of such requirement, and the ongoing controversy over it, are roadblocking so much else. Thereafter, addressing the heavy-duty problem of the untenable costs of providing legal services would be next on the list. It will no doubt take quite some time to get law school tuition, commercial rent levels, and other significant cost factors, reduced. We’ll need to get the universities and provincial and federal governments and their taxpayers on board. To save articling, we’ll have to get the costs of providing a sufficient number of decently-paid articling positions spread around the legal profession at large somehow. There’s indeed lots of work to do on the costs problem.

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

To paraphrase poet Robert Browning’s famous line, “Ah, but one’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Over the next four years, I would hope: to get The Law Society’s “Statement of Principles” requirement repealed right away, to clear the way for the smooth achievement of the main substantive goals of the Society’s EDI initiative, and for the necessary collective work to get the other problems facing the Ontario legal profession addressed; to wrestle down the legal profession’s costs problems, so as to improve the tenability of legal practice, and accordingly improve the public’s access to justice; to save the articling program, including avoiding the permanent settling-in of any “two-tier” set of bar admission paths; to improve access for starter lawyers to adequate and ongoing mentoring networks; to help/nudge/urge governments to speed up judicial appointments, to try to get court backlogs reduced; to get the legal profession at large more interested and active in Law Society governance (changing the number or mode of selection of benchers is not the key; greater buy-in by the legal profession at large is the key); step one in this direction would be to restore the status of Ontario-bar-admitted lawyers to that of “members,” and not mere “licensees,” of The Law Society (when we let ourselves be downgraded to mere “licensee” status ten or twelve years ago, I think we unfortunately gave the benchers of the day the impression that the legal profession at large was not much interested in Law Society governance; we have to reverse that impression now).

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

I believe that the most pressing concerns for the profession in the Toronto Region are the same as are those for the profession in the province as a whole, which I have attempted to address above; if anything, the costs problem may be bigger in Toronto than elsewhere. One local-to-Toronto concern, though, is the current apparent plan in the office of the Attorney General of Ontario to move what I take it is essentially all Ontario Court of Justice criminal court work (and more?) in Toronto into one very large courthouse, now under construction, in Downtown Toronto. Do those who do criminal court work in Toronto think this is a good idea? If not, do we think there is anything we can or should be doing about it? I hope to hear more about this concern, during the current bencher campaign.

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

No. The Law Society’s “Statement of Principles” requirement, though no doubt well-intended, is an instance of unjustified compelled speech, is without legal or regulatory foundation, and is in any event counterproductive, as far as actually helping members of traditionally excluded groups get ahead in the legal profession is concerned. I hope the current bencher election process will include opportunities for candidates on both sides of this issue to state and debate their positions before live and electronic audiences, which audiences will I hope be able to challenge and pose questions to the candidates. 

Poll Question

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