The Law Society of Upper Canada is Getting a New Name

Canada’s oldest law society is getting a name change.

On Thursday, September 28, the Law Society of Upper Canada voted 33 to 11 in favour of  a motion to discard “Upper Canada” from its name at its first fall Convocation meeting. The organization has not yet decided on a replacement name.

Why Change the LSUC’s Name?

The name of Ontario’s regulatory body for lawyers and paralegals has been a contentious subject for some time now. Efforts to change the name originated at Convocation all the way back in 1993; since then, the debate has re-emerged every few years, with support growing in favour of those who wish to adopt a new name.

Though the tide has shifted towards change, the issue is far from settled among the province’s legal community, and nearly a quarter of the Law Society’s benchers (most of whom were elected by lawyers and paralegals) voted against the motion.

Why change the LSUC’s name? On the surface, the issue seems fairly straightforward. The name originates in a time when the “Upper Canada” designation was relevant; it has not been so for several hundred years. It’s likely many Ontarians have never heard of Upper Canada, let alone could explain what it is.

It’s old-fashioned, to say the least. But it goes deeper than that.

The Law Society is mandated to regulate the lawyer and paralegal professions in the public interest. Many in support of the name change have rightly pointed out the organizations name as an obstacle to carrying out that mandate.

After all, how can we expect people to understand what the Law Society of Upper Canada does if they have no idea what (or where) Upper Canada is?

If the organization adopted a more relevant name (like the oft-suggested “Law Society of Ontario”), the public would at least know the province in which it operates. That’s the hope, at least.

But it’s up for debate whether that sort of change would really solve the problem. One bencher pointed out that the term “Law Society” is obtuse as well.

In this context, “society” is basically a synonym for “group” – the word doesn’t connote the fact that the organization is responsible for licensing, regulating, and disciplining lawyers and paralegals in the province. Someone who isn’t familiar with the legal profession could think it’s a group that advocates on behalf of lawyers or paralegals, or that it’s a voluntary group like the Ontario Bar Association or a Law Association.

This bencher also suggested a name along the lines of, “Regulatory Authority of Ontario Lawyers and Paralegals.” RAOLP has a nice ring to it, no?

Reconciliation

Aside from the Law Society’s mandate towards the public, it’s important to note another prominent aspect of the debate: colonialism.

Many benchers pointed out the association between Upper Canada and colonization. The name harkens back to a dark time in Canadian history, evoking violence towards and oppression of the country’s Indigenous peoples. The Law Society itself was not innocent in this regard, with an admissions process that was (and still is, to an extent) discriminatory and Anglo-centric.

It was thought by many that the Law Society could help shed its colonial past by adopting a more contemporary name. However, this is also up for debate. One bencher argued that changing the name for the purpose of reconciliation ignores the ongoing struggles of Ontario’s Indigenous communities, in addition to the colonial connotations of the name ‘Ontario.’

The Law Society of Upper Canada will continue to operate under its own moniker until a new name is chosen in November. Whether it ends up being the OLS, the LSO, or the RAOLP, the new name is sure to be controversial.

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