Former LSO treasurers raise alarm over FullStop Team ideology, urge profession to vote for coalition

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (April 11, 2023, 1:32 PM EDT) -- Eight former Law Society of Ontario (LSO) treasurers are “gravely concerned” about the FullStop Team’s “libertarian ideology” fracturing the public’s confidence in the bar and putting self-regulation at risk. In an open letter obtained by Law360 Canada, the former treasurers call on the profession to vote for the Good Governance Coalition (GGC) in the 2023 bencher election.

“We are worried about the future of the LSO and of the legal profession’s ability to retain the privilege of self-governance. The key to that future lies in the choices made by licensees in the current bencher election. We oppose the FullStop slate. We urge licensees to support the Good Governance Coalition,” explained the letter, released April 11.

The letter notes that the “mandate of the LSO is to ‘govern the profession in the public interest,’ ” which “requires lawyers and paralegals in Convocation to consider not only the interests of licensees but more broadly, the impact of their decisions on the public interest as well.”

“If ever the profession were to lose public confidence in its willingness to take the public interest into account, there would surely be calls for the Ontario government to displace the LSO and itself regulate lawyers and paralegals,” the letter warns, stressing that the “independence of the bar — so essential to the rule of law — would be lost forever.”

The former treasurers raise this issue because bencher behaviour at Convocation over the past four years has “changed.”

“We have watched with rising concern in recent years the emergence in Convocation of a quite different approach to governing the profession. In the 2019 bencher election, a group of like-minded candidates ran as a ‘slate’ under the moniker ‘StopSop.’  That slate is seeking to be returned to Convocation in the 2023 election, this time as ‘FullStop,’ ” the letter noted, explaining that the FullStop Team is “soliciting votes based on an ideological platform irrespective of the individual qualifications of their candidates.”

“Rather than individuals offering independent judgment on issues as they arise, FullStop will form a voting bloc to impose the ideology they favour. Before deciding how to vote in this election, licensees should take a close look at that ideology as well as the conduct of the FullStop benchers over the last four years,” the letter added, highlighting several “deeply troubling” aspects of the slate’s policies and behaviour.

The former treasurers emphasized that “the FullStop slate embraces a libertarian ideology that would pare down the LSO’s functions and read down its mandate to govern in the public interest.”

“We are gravely concerned that if this ideology prevails, public confidence in the LSO will decline, measures to protect the public interest will be lost, and public pressure will increase for the Ontario government to assume control of our profession,” the letter added, noting “one other aspect of the FullStop slate” concerns the signees deeply: “some of their members display crude and offensive conduct in Convocation that is simply not worthy of benchers — or indeed of any member of our profession.”

Former LSO treasurer Allan Rock

Former LSO treasurer Allan Rock

Allan Rock, one of the former LSO treasurers behind the letter, told Law360 Canada that the signatories “share a real concern about what’s been happening at Convocation over the last four years.”

“We don’t recognize Convocation. It’s changed so much in the last four years: the attitudes, the language, the policy positions taken by members of the StopSOP slate. So, we have a concern about what's going on in Convocation, fundamentally, because the ability of the legal profession to govern itself is a privilege that has to be maintained by maintaining the public’s trust,” he explained.

Rock noted that the former treasurers are “very concerned that if matters continue as they've been going, that public trust will be eroded and thereby self-governance of the legal profession will be jeopardized.”

“As we referred to in the open letter, the consequences of losing the privilege of self-governance include the fact that the government of Ontario would then regulate the profession. The government of Ontario would, by regulation, determine what our professional standards are, what will be the criteria for admission to the law society. It would investigate and prosecute allegations of misconduct against lawyers,” he added, stressing that the profession “wouldn’t be governing” its own affairs, but would be “governed by the government and its regulatory process.”

He noted the irony of a “libertarian group, like the FullStop slate who want to see less governance,” possibly bringing about further oversight by the government.

“We believe that if matters continue as they’re going, we could be in grave danger of exactly that happening, of being governed by regulations from Queen’s Park,” Rock, president emeritus of the University of Ottawa, stressed.

Rock also noted that the signatories are expressing their views based on what they’ve seen “over the last four years,” and what they’ve “heard the members of that slate saying at Convocation and beyond and the way they've been behaving.”

“I think among the most important messages I can send to Ontario licensees who are eligible to vote is that it’s really important that they actually cast their ballots,” he added, noting that since the Good Governance Coalition is “presenting itself as a slate just for the election,” those who “wish to support it have to vote for all 40 members” of the GGC.

The former treasurers’ open letter warns that the “FullStop slate is seeking a majority in Convocation to implement the ideology they have pursued these last four years.”

“It is therefore clear that the election of benchers this spring carries special significance,” the letter added, urging “all eligible electors to vote.”

“In deciding who to support, we ask you to remember what is at stake. We believe that the future of professional self-government is on the ballot. And surely it is only through responsible management of the profession’s affairs that we will hold the confidence of the public in our ability to govern ourselves in the public interest,” the letter concluded.

The GGC, which launched in October 2022 in response to the FullStop slate, has been endorsed by 21 legal organizations, lauding the collation’s emphasis on professional self-regulation and diversity and inclusion.

The GGC has also received an endorsement by 20 former presidents of The Advocates’ Society, including Marie Henein, Earl Cherniak, Brian Gover and Guy Pratte.

The endorsement, which was posted on the GGC’s website on April 10, stresses the importance of this year’s bencher election as the “ability to self-regulate is at stake.”

“The Law Society of Ontario needs experienced leaders committed to good governance in the public interest. As advocates, we know the importance of fair and principled decision-making, access to justice, and competency supports like the Member Assistance Program and libraries,” the endorsement explained, noting that as “former presidents of one of Canada’s largest legal associations,” the signees “also know the importance of a strong board of directors whose members bring diverse views and meaningful governance experience to the role.”

The endorsement noted that members of the GGC “come from all corners of Ontario — from Timmins to Windsor, and from Cornwall to Kenora” and “want to bring decorum to Convocation, respect a diversity of views, and make decisions based on evidence.”

“We are confident that Coalition candidates reflect these important values of our profession. We encourage all Ontario lawyers to vote in the upcoming Bencher election between April 19 and 28, 2023. The 40 candidates of the Bencher Good Governance Coalition have our vote,” the endorsement concluded.

The StopSOP slate, which officially relaunched as the FullStop Team in February 2023, declares that it will “Stop BLOAT. Stop CREEP. Stop WOKE.” Its website does not detail any endorsements so far in the campaign.

Regarding GGC endorsements, FullStop Team campaign manager Lisa Bildy, told Law360 Canada, “of course the establishment is endorsing the establishment.”

The voting period for the bencher election will be open from April 19-28 and the results will be announced on May 1.

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