Canadian Lawyer

June 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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4 UPFRONT NEWS ANALYSIS ADVOCATES OF improving diversity in the legal profession will point to many structural barriers in need of reform, but the "good char- acter" process will top almost everyone's list. The Law Society of Manitoba was just the latest legal regulator facing calls for reform when the Canadian Civil Liberties Association released a letter to the provincial regulatory body about this process. "The process violates individual privacy rights and deters members of these commun- ities from joining or even trying to join the legal profession," the association's equality director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv and special adviser on Indigenous issues Verna George wrote. "In order to enter the legal profession in Manitoba," the letter states, "applicants are compelled to disclose details and documenta- tion about a wide array of personal and private information, including unsubstantiated alleg- ations, complaints, charges, discipline, and convictions, regardless of the relevance, the process, or the outcome." Applicants must also disclose all charges, possibly including those that were with- drawn, stayed or that resulted in acquittal — even a conviction for an historic offence such as cannabis possession, which is no longer unlawful, the letter states. George says in an interview that Indigenous students in Manitoba brought this matter to the association's attention. Alyson Bear, an articling student with McKercher LLP in Saskatchewan who is also with the Indigenous Bar Association, says she "could understand how the students who were complaining felt" because she has come up with similar issues during her education. "Every time you apply for something, you come up against this good character require- ment, and you have to disclose anything in your past, including the tiniest infraction," she says. She adds that the requirement doesn't reflect the fact that "you may have totally changed your life around." Amy Salyzyn, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa's faculty of law, says there is a lack of evidence that the "good char- acter" process is even effective in protecting the public. "If you look at the number of questions on the good character requirement form . . . it would be interesting to know what empir- ical evidence is behind [each] question," says Salyzyn. "Because the connection between those questions and future concerns aren't always evident. I think it's a part of a broader need for law societies to engage in evidence- based regulation." Salyzyn and the CCLA letter both point to research done by Alice Woolley, a professor at the University of Calgary law school before her appointment to the Court of Queen's Bench in Alberta. Woolley's research concluded that there is little evidence that past misconduct is a meaningful predictor of future behaviour. Salyzyn says research in the United States has "I think that the current process, as it stands, does not fully take into account the over-policing, wrongful convictions and criminalization of everyday movements of Black, Indigenous and criminalized folks." Samantha Peters, University of Ottawa Photo credit: Charu Sharma Good character, bad predictor Diversity advocates across the country are pushing for law societies to fix the 'good character' process, which they say is ineffective and creates barriers to entry

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