CBA’s new leader urges lawyers to protect trans, non-binary people, defend judicial independence

By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Friday, September 09, 2022 @ 10:56 AM

Law360 Canada (September 8, 2022, 2:29 PM EDT) -- The Canadian Bar Association’s new president is calling on bar leaders and the group’s members to “defend and protect” — and learn from — the trans and non-binary community, who are among the most vulnerable, vilified and abused people in Canada.

“I believe that as the leaders of the Canadian legal community we have a duty to defend and protect the rights of the most disadvantaged people in our society,” Steeves Bujold told lawyers and judges in Montreal, after accepting the CBA’s presidential chain of office, according to a text of his speech provided to The Lawyer’s Daily.

The Université Laval graduate and litigation partner with McCarthy Tétrault in Montreal, whose areas of expertise include health law, and medical, pharmaceutical and professional liability, informed the audience at the evening event Sept. 7 that he is asking the CBA’s national board on Sept. 8 to green light the creation of a new CBA advisory group on “Inclusion and Access to Justice for Trans, Non-binary and Gender Diverse People.”  

Steeves Bujold, centre, receiving  his chain of office Sept. 7 from CBA vice-president John Stefaniuk, left, and  Bujold’s spouse, Yannick Jacques.

Steeves Bujold, centre, receiving his chain of office Sept. 7 from CBA vice-president John Stefaniuk, left, and Bujold’s spouse, Yannick Jacques

Bujold explained the advisory group’s mandate will be to advise the CBA’s presidents and other board members over the next three years on initiatives, programs and policies that the 37,000-member association “should be putting together to address the compelling issues faced by members of the trans and non-binary community in Canada.”

Bujold urged CBA members to become — or continue to be — allies of trans and non-binary people by “reaching out, engaging and learning from” those within their organizations and community-based organizations.

He also asked lawyers to initiate training and policy changes to improve the experience of trans and non-binary people.

Bujold said his two personal priorities for his year as CBA president are to promote diversity within the judicial system and legal communities, and to encourage members of the bar to promote public confidence in the independence of the judiciary by speaking out immediately against any baseless attack on judges — a troubling phenomenon that tears at the fabric of democracy.

On the matter of diversity, Bujold said it is still not sufficiently reflected in the judicial system and legal community.

Describing himself as a “proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community,” he said “I believe strongly that more diversity in the legal community would improve access to justice by allowing more creative ideas and solutions to be implemented.”

Addressing the “inequalities and discrimination” experienced by LGBTQ2S+ community, Bujold noted that the last Canadian census in 2021 disclosed that more than 100,000 Canadians identified as transgender or non-binary and that almost one per cent of adults aged 20 to 24 thus identified. The proportion of transgender and non-binary people was three to seven times higher among GenZ (roughly ages 10 and up) and millennials (approximately ages 26 to 41) than for previous generations.

Steeves Bujold, McCarthy Tétrault

Steeves Bujold, McCarthy Tétrault

Among the disturbing research Bujold cited, he said a 2015 trans youth health survey conducted by the University of British Columbia revealed that, within the previous 12 months, more than one-third of respondents had attempted suicide at least once, and almost one in 10 had attempted suicide four or more times. Fifty-five per cent of the respondent youth said they had seriously considered suicide, and 70 per cent said their family did not understand them. Seventy per cent also said they were subjected to sexual harassment, with more than one-third stating they were physically threatened or injured in the previous year. Nearly half of the older youth reported being cyberbullied.

“The data undeniably shows that trans and non-binary people are neglected, misunderstood, underrepresented and left behind,” Bujold said.

He also noted that poverty and homelessness remain pressing issues for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, and that sexual minority groups have significantly lower median earnings compared with heterosexual men.

Bujold said “inclusive leadership” has been protective against discrimination on the job. “Respondents spoke of the positive effects of working with open and supportive allies and colleagues, as well as a sense of community in the workplace,” he said, citing a study, published in August 2022 by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, that was sponsored by Pride at Work Canada.

Bujold suggested that harnessing the power of the CBA’s 37,000 members and the goodwill of their leadership would not only help solve the problems he outlined, but would also provide benefits “from the incredible opportunities that come from a fully engaged and inclusive society.”

Bujold described “judicial independence” as his first personal priority as CBA president, urging lawyers to remain “vigilant” to preserve and protect it.

Alluding to recent high-profile public accusations of impropriety against judges in Quebec — which the CBA-Quebec vigorously denounced as baseless — as well as “worrying incidents” elsewhere in Canada and south of its border, Bujold said that “as leaders of Canada’s legal community we can’t remain silent, we must stand up for this extremely important principle and defend judicial independence every time it is under attack.”

Quoting Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner’s statement last June that “as soon as an incident occurs that can attack judicial independence, we must react, we must denounce,” Bujold congratulated CBA-Quebec president Martine Burelle for her op-ed published inLe DevoirSept 3, titled “The gratuitous attacks on judges must stop.”

Writing “(translation) there comes a time when you have to speak up, because a point of no return has been reached,” Burelle condemned, as a “purely gratuitous attack”, an opinion piece published by a Quebec academic this summer which she said accused Supreme Court Chief Justice Wagner of “shameless blackmail,” and suggested that R. v. Jordan 2016 SCC 27 — which led to thousands of criminal cases being dismissed due to unconstitutional trial delay — was an effort by the top court to press governments to pump more money into the justice system (Chief Justice Wagner was actually part of a four-judge minority which disagreed with imposing the majority’s prescribed presumptive time ceilings).

Bujold asked lawyers to “denounce in the strongest terms” every attack on judicial independence as it occurs, and to take “every opportunity to educate the public on the reasons why judicial independence is so essential for our democratic society and the protection of our individual rights.”

Bujold urged lawyers to also educate their fellow citizens on the importance of judicial independence, and to help the public better understand and cherish judicial independence “as one of the most important pillars of our democratic political system.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Martine Burelle’s surname. The Lawyer’s Daily apologizes for the error.

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