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Ryan Alford

Northwest Electoral Region (NW)
Ryan Alford

Candidate bio description

Ryan Alford is a tenured professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law in Thunder Bay, who teaches constitutional law, administrative law, and seminars in legal history. He holds a research doctorate in constitutional law from the University of South Africa, a master’s degree in law from the University of Oxford, and a law degree from New York University. In addition to teaching at Bora Laskin, Ryan served as a Visiting Fellow of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History (in Frankfurt, Germany) and a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria. Before teaching, Ryan practiced law in Brussels and in New York City. He is the Applicant challenging the constitutionality of the Law Society’s Statement of Principles requirement.

What inspired you to run for bencher this year?

After I obtained the opinion of outside counsel (which had been commissioned by the EDI committee), I was taken aback by Convocation’s failure to adequately consider the constitutional issues about the Statement of Principles requirement that it had flagged. The more I learned about the SoP and how it was proposed and approved, the more I became convinced that the Law Society requires more independently-minded benchers, who are prepared to ask difficult questions and raise issues that others find too awkward to mention. Even after the implications of the SoP (and the controversy this generated) led to vigorous discussion, numerous benchers remain ill-informed: some benchers continue to believe that the Oath of Allegiance must be sworn by candidates at call ceremonies, despite the fact that it was made optional decades ago owing to compelled speech concerns very similar to those I raise --and despite the fact that these benchers preside at these call ceremonies. Ontario’s lawyers deserve better than rubber-stamp benchers who do their best to empower the LSO's bureaucracy to take any measure that might justify an annual budget approaching one-hundred and fifty million dollars, which is driving dues and fees so high that it is now affecting entry to the profession and access to justice.

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

The core problem is the disconnection between the LSO and the realities of legal practice, particularly outside of Toronto and in small-firm and solo practice. (This will only get worse if the drive the reduce Convocations membership even further is not defeated; the plan to transform Convocation into the analogue of a corporate board is fundamentally misguided.) When new regulatory burdens are created (or when they are balanced against regulatory objectives) the ability of large law firms to bear those burdens is the implicit benchmark. Further reinforcement of this dynamic would prove disastrous to small-firm and solo practitioners, which would have a devastating effect on access to justice in the communities they serve. Convocation will soon be considering “entities regulation”, which might cover everything from two-person partnerships to the Toronto offices of global megafirms. As it prepares to do so, it pushed out a number of life benchers who served a vital role as the institutional memory of Convocation. A rush to create broad swaths of new regulation would be a terrible idea. We need sober reflection within a deliberative body that represents everyone --those upon whom the burden would fall the hardest just as well as those who stand the most to gain. This is particularly true in the event that Bay Street raises new trial balloons for a revival of Alternative Business Structures (ABS), ready to be launched in the event that Convocation can be trimmed into a more manageable form.

What would be your first priority upon election?

The repeal of the Statement of Principles requirement should be the first order of business. Convocation should re-evaluate what it approved, especially after how it was presented by LSO staff to those it regulates. At the same time that the benchers insisted that the SoP imposed no new obligations, its officials said we were now required to demonstrate a personal valuing of certain values and that the requirement to conform our conduct to those values—however the Law Society, or inevitably, the Tribunal, subsequently defines them—applied equally to our personal lives. While it has backed off from this interpretation publically, the LSO refuses to settle the lawsuit I brought, which it could do merely by confirming that the most anodyne interpretation of the SoP (that it confirms one is required to follow, but not to personally value, laws and regulations) by agreeing that this will be the binding interpretation. The LSO is trying to have it both ways as it runs out the clock on this election, which may be the last meaningful chance Ontario’s lawyers have both to address the SoP and the dynamics at Convocation that address it. After further “governance reform”, this will be considerably more difficult.

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

I would like to play a part in helping Convocation return to its role as a deliberative body that carefully and judiciously considers the impact of every action it takes on all of Ontario’s lawyers, while always remaining mindful that the burden of regulation never falls equally. I would like to help Convocation regain the confidence of all of Ontario’s lawyers that the realities of their professional lives are not alien to the benchers who regulate them.

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

The lawyers I have spoken to from the Northwest region speak most often about the sense of disconnection between the perspective of Convocation and what they see in Thunder Bay, Kenora, and Fort Frances. Access to justice in this region depends principally on the strength and morale of the local bar. Creating regulatory obligations that require small-town lawyers to dedicate too many hours to pointless compliance (consider if the Know Your Client regulations are equally well-tailored for all types of practice, for instance) work life balance suffers, and the viability of practice in these communities declines, bit by bit. A number of my former students were also shocked by the fees that the LSO charges, which need to be considered as an access to justice issue as well. If young lawyers, burdened by debts incurred by entities regulated by the LSO and, increasingly, by the LSO itself, cannot afford to practice in certain areas or certain communities, then these fees constitute a barrier to justice. Which they are.

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

No. I was the Applicant (and am now the Co-applicant) in a constitutional challenge to the SoP requirement. It is dismaying that the LSO continues to require lawyers to fulfill this requirement even as it awaits a judicial determination of precisely what it means and what it requires of all licencees. Given the serious concerns about how it infringes freedom of conscience and constitutes compelled speech, and as it could serve as a precedent for values tests that might be imposed by the government in many other contexts, this one requirement--alone among the eight proposed and accepted--cannot stand. Requiring someone to say they agree with the rightness of any law, rather than merely to agree to uphold it, crosses a threshold that we marked off a long time ago, and for good reason. Every lawyer must continue to possess the freedom to say they disagree with any law, or even with the constitution, and to retain the ability to attempt to advocate changing it by all legal means (up to, and including, abolishing the primacy of the monarchy or the rule of law). That is the essence of a free society.

Poll Question

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