The Ontario Court of Justice comprises 391 full-time and pier diem judges of which just seven are African-Canadian. And there are just 18 Black Bay St. partners in influential downtown Toronto law firms.
The paucity of Blacks and other visible minorities in the legal profession prompted the authors of a diversity report released last week to include the legal sector for the first time in their study.
The third annual DiverseCity Counts report tracked 2,410 legal leaders, including judges, governing bodies, law school leaders, partners in the top 20 law firms and crown attorneys.
The findings were not surprising. Visible minorities are vastly under-represented in the legal sector with a complete absence of Crown and Deputy Crown Attorneys in the Greater Toronto Area.
“The legal profession, I think we all know, is an incredibly important sector to look at, not simply by virtue of what it does but by virtue of the pipelines to other leadership positions that it seems to have access to,” said DiverseCity co-chair Ratna Omidvar. “It’s a critical feature of our democracy and when you look at it, 73 per cent of Canadian prime ministers were in fact lawyers.”
“The legal profession attracts people with a commitment to public service and due process and diversifying that sector as a whole is going to help us diversify all sectors,” said DiverseCity co-chair John Tory. “When you go to the Harry Jerome Awards and other events in the Black community and you see young people being interviewed and asked what they want to do, far more of them will say they want to be lawyers.
“That is because they see the profession as a place where they can bring about change. They understand enough about change and how the system works. But you can’t be a change-agent or an effective one if you are not able to achieve a position of leadership in the area where you are trying to bring about that change.”
Commissioned by DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project, the study focussed on five of the GTA’s most diverse municipalities – Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Markham and Richmond Hill – which represent nearly 73 per cent of the almost four million GTA residents of which approximately 50 per cent are visible minorities.
This year’s study reveals that leadership in the GTA has risen from 13.4 per cent in 2009 to 14.5 per cent this year.
“Yes, this is progress,” said Omidvar who is the president of the Maytree Foundation which works with partners to reduce poverty. “But it is progress at a snail’s pace and if we keep up this rate of progress, it will take us nearly 30 years to get where we want to go.”
The provincial government has pledged to support the DiverseCity project for the next two years.
“When we think about diversity in Ontario, especially as a government, it doesn’t take much to come to the realization that diversity is one of our greatest strengths as a province,” said provincial Citizenship & Immigration Minister Eric Hoskins. “Embracing diversity helps our province grow and prosper, it helps us open new markets and further attract and retain the best and brightest from right around the world.
“Ontario’s talented newcomers drive our innovation, power our start-up businesses and build strong communities. Embracing our newcomers and getting them on the ladder of opportunity quickly is an economic imperative for Ontario.”
The snapshot of diverse leadership in the GTA tracks over 3,000 leaders across the corporate, public, elected, education and non-profit sectors.
While corporate sector leadership is the least diverse of the segments measured, there was an 18.4 per cent growth among elected officials and a slight decrease from 9.4 per cent last year to 8.8 per in 2011 in the public sector.
“Perhaps the reason that the public sector typically has more visible minority leaders is the higher level of transparency and scrutiny that inspires action,” said the report’s lead author and Ryerson University Diversity Institute founder, Dr. Wendy Cukier. “Organizations that make a point of tracking and reporting on their results tend to have higher levels of diversity. What gets measured gets done.”