© 1995 Karen Selick
The CBA Is Apolitical...Not!
An edited version of this article first appeared in the February, 1995 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


 The CBA Is Apolitical...Not!

Over the past few months, I have been quoted in two newspapers calling the Canadian Bar Association left-wing.  Each time, CBA president Tom Heintzman has been quoted denying it.  He claims the CBA is apolitical.  I wish.

While some CBA committees may still provide useful, apolitical analyses of draft legislation and regulations, there are others that have indisputably drifted across the line into advocating ideologically biased political positions.

As an opponent of gun control and a CBA member, I feel betrayed when I read in the newspaper that the organization I belong to has endorsed The Coalition for Gun Control. 

As an advocate of legal surrogate mothering for pay, I am angered to read in the newspaper that a CBA committee has recommended that this practice be prohibited.  

As a CBA member who believes there is no such thing as a "right" to confiscate someone else's property or labour, I am alarmed to find a CBA task force recommending that every province should legislate a right to health care--in other words, a right to commandeer some taxpayers' hard-earned money for the benefit of others.  This "apolitical" advice appears in a report entitled  "What's Law Got to Do With it?--Health Care Reform in Canada."  A better question would have been:  what's the CBA got to do with it?

As a woman lawyer who takes pride in having carved out my own niche in the world without favours from anyone, I am outraged to find a CBA task force advocating that women be given special privileges and subsidies.  The CBA then had the gall to award Bertha Wilson a prize for this report, as if the membership all approved of her recommendations and had never been torn apart by controversy over them.

I support entirely the right of Mr. Heintzman and other CBA executives and committee heads to advocate in their private capacities whatever political positions they wish.  However, I object strongly when they do it in a context which either implies or explicitly states that they are speaking on behalf of the members of the CBA, including me.

By doing this, they are not only taking political positions, they are also using political methods.  In the political realm, everyone is forced to conform to the positions favoured by only a portion of the group.  Dissenting opinion is buried beneath the will of the majority--or as happens so frequently nowadays, of the largest or most vocal minority.

Canada has become an increasingly political place, where legislatures continually arrogate to themselves more and more facets of life to be regulated, prescribed, monitored and governed.  With state intrusion so pervasive, so routine, it will be increasingly difficult for the CBA--or anyone else--to remain apolitical. 

The organization should strive to confine its activities to those that will make none of its members perceive themselves to be worse off for the CBA's actions.  Negotiating discounts for products and services is one such unobjectionable activity.  Promoting good public relations between the legal profession and consumers of legal services is another.  Conducting seminars on what the law is--as opposed to what some lawyers think it should be--is a third.  

If the CBA continues to take positions on political issues, some members will quit in protest.  This is what distinguishes a voluntary organization from a government.  We can't opt out of the laws of the country, but at least we can opt out of the CBA.   Unfortunately for lawyers in British Columbia, this is not the case.  Membership in the CBA is mandatory for them, according to the rules of their law society.  This is all the more reason why the CBA must guard scrupulously against any activities which any of its captive B.C. members perceive to be contrary to their interests.

Lawyers who want to lobby for political causes have other organizations to turn to, even within the legal profession.  There's the Women's Law Association for women's issues and the Delos Davis Law Guild for black issues.  There's no need to shanghai the rest of us into promoting causes we don't all agree with.

Lawyer Stephen Paine of Niagara Falls, Ontario plans to offer lawyers a "classical liberal" alternative in the near future.  The group he is organizing will promote traditional legal values that have lately been much neglected--freedom of contract, individual rights, and property rights.  

No, my only regret about having called the CBA left-wing is that I used a fuzzy, imprecise term when there are so many fine precise ones that would have applied: interventionist, collectivist, statist, authoritarian.

A final word on the gender equity report.  In support of the proposition that women lawyers with children should be allowed to work fewer hours without loss of pay, the CBA cites a report of the Boston Bar Association.  What the Boston report actually says is that such women "would be paid a proportional amount of the applicable full-time salary."

The CBA report also says, "A recent report on women in engineering recommended that a reduction of 20% in hours of work should not affect levels of benefits."  A CBA spokesman has admitted to me that "benefits" as used in the engineers' report included only things like the group insurance plan, not the salary.  

Maybe the next time I speak of the CBA, I should throw in the words "deceptive" and "misleading" too.

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June 07, 2000