A Toronto lawyer launched a website on Feb. 25 listing bencher candidates who publicly support the Law Society of Ontario’s statement of principles requirement.
Corey Shefman, an associate at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP in Toronto, launched the site statementofprinciples.ca amid controversy over the law society’s rule, which says that lawyers must complete a statement related to promoting diversity in the profession.
Shefman says he created the website to make it easier for voters to find information ahead of the April 30 election for the Law Society of Ontario’s next board. On the first day, the website accumulated listings for 25 bencher candidates.
“That’s what this is all about — to make it easier for voters,” says Shefman. “If they are clicking on the website to go vote, they have this resource available to them. If they want, they can just click based on the names on my site. If they want to do their own research that’s fine, too.”
Shefman, who is not running for bencher, says the website is not affiliated with any one bencher’s campaign. Rather, he says, he searched the names of bencher candidates released in a list by the Law Society of Ontario and looked at public information such as Law Times’ dedicated bencher site, blogs, social media and news outlets for candidates who met three criteria.
Candidates must publicly support the law society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion program, as well as the Statement of Principles and must oppose re-opening the debate on the SOP, he says.
Candidates do not pay to be put on the list, says Shefman, and a candidate must show Shefman evidence that they meet the criteria if they ask to be included on his website.
The requirement to complete a statement of principles — a document acknowledging an “obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion” — was approved by Convocation in Dec. 2016, after a report identified challenges facing racialized licensees. However, the requirement has continued to face opposition, including a court case against the LSO.
The launch of Shefman’s site comes after a group opposing the statement of principles requirement announced online it would back a slate of candidates.
Shefman said his list is not a “slate” of candidates and is not part of an organizing group to back the SOP.
With voter turnout in bencher elections hovering around 33 per cent — down from 56 per cent in 1987, according to the law society’s 2015 election results — Shefman says he was motivated to make a more deliberate effort around supporting the statement of principles.
“We know that the opponents of the statement of principles have organized a formal slate in this election. What I was very concerned about happening was, essentially, apathy setting in. My fear was, we’d have this organized group . . . getting out the vote and really organizing the opposition, while the rest of us sort of sat on our hands,” says Shefman.