Law Society of Ontario stands idly by | Michael Lesage

By Michael Lesage

Law360 Canada (November 9, 2023, 9:17 AM EST) --
Michael Lesage
Michael Lesage
Though selectively constrained in operation by s. 4.1 of the Law Society Act, that has not stopped the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) from wading into various social issues, both foreign and domestic. For instance, after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the U.S., it posted in support of Blackout Tuesday, a day of collective action to protest racism and police brutality (though it was repackaged to “stand with our diversity partners and stakeholders to address the barriers faced by Black licensees”).

Less divisively, it joined the UN’s Orange the World campaign, calling for an end to violence against women. It also runs a program to feed the legitimately hungry, and has in past operated a subsidized restaurant at Osgoode Hall, for those benchers and staff who are also hungry but don’t wish to pay regular price.

That the law society speaks out on social issues should not come as a surprise. For instance, it has long held that its licensees have a special obligation to respect existing human rights law, and may not discriminate on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin or creed. What has been surprising is that the law society has itself chosen to remain silent since the events of Oct.7, 2023, in Israel and thereafter, around the world and at home.

To briefly recap, to “teach Israel a lesson,” Hamas launched a massive surprise attack during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. 5,000 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, while several thousand terrorists infiltrated Israel at various points along the strip’s border. Hamas terrorists had been instructed by their commander Mohammed Deif to “kill them wherever you may find them.”

The terrorists killed many Israelis in their homes, including women and children, and hundreds more young people dancing at a music festival. By the end of the day, Hamas had killed more than 1,400 Israelis (raping and beheading some) and taken more than 240 hostages back to Gaza including around 30 children. Regardless of the cause of the conflict (which, checks Bible and Quar’an, appears to be long-standing in the region), Hamas actions constitute either crimes or war crimes.

To ensure their terrorists were credited, many of the murders were livestreamed, with Hamas propagandists making clear their intent to annihilate Israel and “do this again and again.” Israel then laid siege to the Gaza Strip, in an effort to root out Hamas and recover its hostages, which continues.

As Enes Kanter noted, while there was little protest when ISIS killed tens of thousands in Libya, Syria and Iraq, or when hundreds of thousands were killed in Yemen, or when China detained more than one million Uyghurs, now protesters holding Palestinian flags were outraged and took to the streets in cities around the world, sometimes sharing their views on “the Jews,” while loudly demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

In Sydney, the Palestine Action Group led a protest to the Sydney opera house, with a number of attendees chanting “gas the Jews.”

There have been similar rallies in other major cities, among them Toronto and Ottawa, with protestes chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” (at best raising the question of where they expect Israel and its Jewish inhabitants will go). Placards have been carried reading “Occupation is a crime, resistance is a response,” while CUPE (before backtracking and being grieved) and various student groups have offered their support for “Palestinian resistance,” with the York Student Union indicating that Israel is a “settler colony,” that resistance is justified and that the actions of Oct. 7 were “decolonization” and “land-back” actualized. One can only wait for such armed resistance to take root in Canada, which the York students similarly noted to be a settler colony.

Meanwhile, Toronto police reported 14 hate crimes in Toronto in October, 12 of which targeted Jews, a steep rise from the year earlier, while a Montreal synagogue was hit with Molotov cocktails. Protesters have also called for the boycott of Jewish-owned businesses.

Faced with such widespread outpouring of hatred and discrimination against a small minority, who make up around 1.4 per cent of Canada’s population (who presumably, want to be treated equitably under the law, and not discriminated against or subjected to violence based on their faith), the law society has elected to remain silent, and not comment on or issue a statement regarding the events in Israel and Gaza or their spillover in Ontario or elsewhere.

Moreover, to date, the law society has not indicated any disciplinary action will be taken upon licensees or prospective licensees, including those who openly support Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. It is difficult to see how such beliefs square with the law society’s pronouncements on the need for licensees to respect human rights laws, but then perhaps at the law society, some groups are more equal and deserving of the law’s protections than others?

The world has seen this movie before (including the acquiescence or enthusiastic participation of the legal profession in the new pogrom), and the words of Martin Niemoller ring as true today as they did in the aftermath of the Second World War:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Given the law society’s self-professed interest in respecting human rights, hopefully the law society will take steps to address the real concerns of Ontario’s Jewish lawyers and citizens, and play its part in rooting out the pernicious rise in antisemitism that appears to be taking root within our borders before it takes root in the profession.
Michael Lesage is a trial lawyer and the founder of Michael’s Law Firm, a litigation boutique that specializes in complex cases involving professional negligence, business litigation, insurance coverage disputes and cases of serious injury. When not representing clients, he can often be found playing competitive sports. He is also a former bencher at the Law Society of Ontario. You can email him at

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