Slowly but surely, the legal profession in Canada has begun to grapple with discrimination in our profession and institutions.
Individuals such as Hadiya Roderique, who published the seminal essay "Black on Bay Street" in 2017, have shone a light on how the legal profession excludes racialized, Indigenous, and diverse lawyers. The conversation has also highlighted how the legal system systemically creates barriers to justice for diverse communities.
Law firms, law societies, courts, and other legal organizations need to actively work towards improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in both the legal profession and legal institutions. A new policy by the Provincial Court of British Columbia (and championed by the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section of the Canadian Bar Association's BC branch) is a tangible step in the right direction.
New Policy on Pronouns in BC Courts
Under this new policy, lawyers are asked to advise the court of their pronouns and their client's pronouns when introducing themselves. Previously, lawyers introduced themselves by simply stating and spelling their names and identifying their client.
Lawyers are now asked to introduce themselves with the following information:
- + Their title or salutation, such as Mr., Ms., Mx., or Counsel. Mx is a gender-neutral salutation and is pronounced "Mix";
- + Their name and the spelling of their last name ("My name is Ms. Serin Remedios, spelled R-E-M-E-D-I-O-S");
- + Their pronouns ("I use she/her pronouns"); and
- + Their client's title, name, and pronouns ("I am lawyer for Mx. Jane Doe who uses they/them pronouns").
A similar guideline has also been introduced by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Importance of this New Policy
These new guidelines have been implemented to ensure that courts respect people by using their correct titles and pronouns and by avoiding misgendering. By making the practice of providing pronouns applicable to everyone, the new policy takes the onus off of people who may be more likely misgendered.
This practice will also hopefully help shift norms in our profession outside the courtroom. Rather than assuming someone's gender from external factors such as name or appearance, members of the legal profession should be asking individuals how they would like to be addressed. In our office, lawyers have taken a cue from the courts and have included their pronouns in their email signatures.
Courts need to take these kinds of progressive steps to ensure that Canada's legal system is equally accessible for all. We view these changes as a welcome step to improving equitable and inclusive access to courts, and hope that this practice can help improve the experiences of transgender and gender diverse people in both the judicial system and legal profession.
Outside of the pandemic, 2020 saw a long-overdue focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. We are committed to moving the needle in a meaningful way and have allocated $100,000 to DE+I initiatives through 2024 (which, incidentally, is a much larger percentage of our revenue than Nike's commitment). It is no secret that law has long been both an employer and a tool of the privileged, and our new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee is mandated and funded to ensure that we are active agents for change in developing a more welcoming workplace and a more inclusive profession that improves access to justice.
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