Pronouns matter. That is why we should welcome the announcement in December 2020 by the Provincial Court of British Columbia that there will be a change in the way parties and lawyers should present themselves in court.

“Providing a forum for justice that is impartial, fair, consistent and guarantees equal access to all is part of the mission of the Provincial Court of British Columbia,” says his opinion. “Giving people dignity and respect by using their correct titles and pronouns is one aspect of such a forum.

The notice goes on to say: “The use of incorrect gendered language for a party or a lawyer in court can cause uncomfortable tension and distract them from the proceedings on which all participants should be free to focus.”

The court also expressed its hope that the measure “will contribute to an inclusive and respectful culture for everyone”.

Lots on Canadian #RightTwitter and in the legal community has rightly welcomed this change. As a queer black female lawyer, this was also important to me.

Indeed, while the use of pronouns is not new in many spaces, it is new in the legal community and in legal workplaces.

Unfortunately, I have heard many testimonies from lawyers, articling students and law students who have had gender issues or whose colleagues refused to include their pronouns on their email signatures. They have had to engage with many members of the legal community, including judges and law professors, who do not adequately understand the harm someone can cause to our colleagues, clients and others we meet. in the practice of law, whether in the classroom, virtually the courtroom, or in real life.

The use of appropriate pronouns is not only important for inclusion. There are also legal reasons that justify their use. Although the Ontario Human Rights Code does not require the use of a particular pronoun or terminology, the Ontario Human Rights Commission argues that the use of the correct pronouns can affirm gender identities and challenge discriminatory attitudes. The use of bad pronouns can “disempower, demean and reinforce exclusion”.

Indeed, refuse to refer to a transgender person by name or insist on the use of their pseudonym (a pseudonym occurs when a person, intentionally or not, refers to a transgender person by the name they used before their birth. transition), or intentionally gender abuse, most likely will constitute discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment.

In addition, under the Law of the Law Society of Ontario Rules of ethics, lawyers have a professional responsibility to be competent and to provide quality service by providing courteous, comprehensive and prompt service to clients. They also have a special responsibility to comply with the requirements of the human rights laws in force in Ontario.

Therefore, respecting pronouns is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a professional responsibility. It also shows an alliance with trans and non-binary people in particular. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this requirement can be dangerous in some ways, as some people may be forced to manifest themselves using particular pronouns when they are not quite ready to do so. So we have to make room for choice and allow people to define themselves and on their own terms.

Fortunately, over the past few years we have seen encouraging signs of progress. The Ontario Court of Appeal has created a gender-neutral locker room.

The LSO now has an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion CPD requirement, which requires licensees to complete three hours of accredited programming professionalism focused on equality, diversity and inclusion (hours EDI) by the end of 2020.

Many law schools, legal clinics, and community organizations offer free legal aid calls for identity requests, name changes, gender marker changes, and other related needs through the clinics. trans identification.

On the east coast of Nova Scotia, a note on the court’s website expressly states that “judges and judges of all courts in Nova Scotia prefer gender neutral terms.”

While the legal profession still has a long way to go, requiring lawyers to declare their names, titles and pronouns for themselves and their clients is an important step towards creating a more equitable legal profession, diverse, inclusive and secure for those who access it.

Author’s Note: I would like to express my gratitude and acknowledge the tremendous advocacy of the Turtle Island trans and non-binary lawyers and advocates, as well as the work of the Sexual Orientation and Identity Community Section of gender (SOGIC) branch of the ABC-BC that informed the policy change. in British Columbia courts to ask for the use of pronouns to encourage diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Find out more here.

Samantha Peters (she / they) is a lawyer who works at the intersection of law, education and policy, ranging from law reform initiatives and legal education to legislative research @SamPetersTO

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