NSBS Acknowledgement of Systemic Discrimination: Our Commitment Moving Forward
We acknowledge and regret the existence of systemic discrimination in our justice system and within the Society. The Society exists to uphold and protect the public interest in the practice of law. We do that through our regulation of the legal profession in Nova Scotia. Acknowledgement that systemic discrimination exists within the Society is a step towards improving how we protect the public interest. It is only in accepting this truth that we can meaningfully begin the journey to improve our organization and the justice system.
When we use the term systemic discrimination, we mean a system of disproportionate opportunities or disadvantages for people with a common set of characteristics such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and/or socio-economic status. For example, the mistreatment of Indigenous and Black communities throughout the justice system has been chronicled in the Marshall Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and retold through the voices of the Idle No More and Black Lives Matter movements.
Where systemic discrimination manifests in policies and procedures, we need to recognize this, and both modify our policies and procedures and accommodate individual members of equity-seeking communities, including those who are members of the bar.
Since the Marshall Inquiry, the Society has made efforts to address issues in the legal profession and the justice system arising from historical, deep-rooted inequities. However, we have heard the voices of those dissatisfied with our efforts to date and we accept that we must do more.
We not only acknowledge and regret the existence of systemic discrimination within the justice system and the Society, but also recognize the need for action and education to address it. The Society is committed to reducing barriers created by racism, unconscious bias, and discrimination. We are committed to continuing our efforts to learn, to adapt, to improve our processes and to lead Nova Scotia’s legal profession by example. In collaboration with our members, the legal entities we regulate, stakeholders, and justice system partners, we will work diligently towards eliminating all forms of discrimination in the justice system and in the Society.
Our Commitment & Next Steps
We will undertake a comprehensive external, independent review of our regulatory policies and processes to identify and address any areas of systemic discrimination that exist within the Society. Doug Ruck, QC will be the independent, external reviewer.
Steps of the external review are as follows:
- Regulatory review: Review of the Society’s legislation, regulation, policies, procedures, and practices in the regulatory aspects of our mandate (including credentialing, professional responsibility, trust/audits), identify where systemic discrimination may exist. The reviewer will recommend how the Society can change these areas or improve them to eliminate systemic discrimination.
- Operational review: Review of the Society’s operational policies, procedures, and practices to identify where systemic discrimination may exist within our operations. The reviewer will recommend how the Society can change these areas or improve them to eliminate systemic discrimination.
- Interim and final reports: As we expect this process will take some time, we will be provided with an interim and final report including the reviewer’s findings and recommendations of improvements and changes to the Society’s policies and processes. It will also provide short-and long-term goals, solutions and changes required to eliminate or mitigate systemic discrimination in the Society and encourage an organizational culture free of bias.
Why are you acknowledging systemic discrimination within the Society?
Over the past year, we have all become increasingly aware of the significant impact of structural and historic racism and discrimination.
We publicly commit to continue our efforts to learn, adapt and improve our processes and structures. By making our plan and actions public, we are accountable to the public and our members.
What do you mean by systemic discrimination?
Systemic discrimination is a system of disproportionate opportunities or disadvantages for people with a common set of characteristics such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and/or socio-economic status.
We are looking at structures and barriers that we may have inadvertently created as an organization, not as individuals.
What actions are you taking?
We are undertaking a comprehensive external, independent review of our regulatory policies and processes to identify and address any areas of systemic discrimination that exists within the Society.
What is the timeline to complete the review of systemic discrimination?
This work will begin mid-May and it is estimated to take at least 8-10 months.
Who will conduct this external independent review?
We are working with external reviewer, Doug Ruck KC.
About Doug Ruck KC:
Doug is a lawyer whose early personal experience fostered a commitment to civil rights and promoting equality. When his father, the Late Senator Calvin Ruck, moved his young family from Halifax to Dartmouth some of the white residents circulated a petition to keep the family out of the neighbourhood. His father was undeterred and, inspired by his father, he began a lifetime of breaking down barriers and social activism.
He has extensive experience examining organizational cultures including the stated and often unanticipated impact of policies and procedures in the workplace. He also promotes the cultivation of skills needed to advance the principles of diversity equity and inclusion.
Doug’s legal career has provided him with considerable knowledge in the fields of labour and employment law, human rights, civil litigation and administrative law. He was the first full-time Chairperson of the Unified Nova Scotia Labour Board, and formerly served as the Vice-Chair of the Canada Industrial Relations Board, Nova Scotia Labour Standards Tribunal, Labour Relations Board, and Board of Inquiry for the Human Rights Commission. Douglas is also the former Chairman of the Labour Standards Tribunal, Civil Service Employee Relations Board, and Public Sector Compensation Board, and was the managing partner for the private law practice of Ruck & Mitchell.
Doug has lectured and presented workshops and seminars at the provincial, national, and international level on a variety of topics in labour and employment law, human rights and more. As well, as Nova Scotia’s former Ombudsman, Douglas was instrumental in the creation of Nova Scotia’s Children’s Ombudsman and was the founding Director of the Canadian Ombudsman Association.
Doug is presently the Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of King’s College.
How do I learn about what comes out of the review?
We will share a final report including the reviewer’s findings and recommendations of improvements and changes to the Society’s policies and processes. It will also provide short-and long-term goals, solutions and changes required to eliminate or mitigate systemic discrimination in the Society and encourage an organizational culture free of bias.
What internal resources has the Society dedicated to this work?
Our Equity & Access department specifically leads the advancement of equity, diversity, and inclusion principles and practices as well as cultural proficiency within the legal profession, among Society staff and volunteers and within the justice system.
This department also advises the Society on equity and access issues and how to incorporate them into policy and operations, ensuring an equity lens is applied to all work the Society does.
In addition, we expect all employees of the Society, at one time or the other, will be involved in ensuring Doug Ruck has the information he needs and access to materials he may require to complete his work.
Systemic Discrimination Resources
- Ontario Human Rights Fact Sheet
- US Equal Opportunities Commission: What is “systemic”?
- Common Barriers to Participation Experienced by Disabled Persons
- What Racism Looks Like
- Washington Post: How to explain systemic racism to non-liberals like me
- CBA National: In their shoes
- Drop the Guilt
- Council of Europe Study
- From Discrimination to Systemic Racism: Understanding Societal Construction.
Members with questions please contact us at [email protected].
NSBS Communications Advisor