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OPA President Calls On Paralegals To Decide Now

“Do we intend to be, and behave as, professionals? Take a stand for your professional future today.”

An outreach message from the President to: Ontario Paralegal Association Members, students, recent graduates, administrators and
educators of paralegal training and all those on the fence and needing to understand what the Ontario Paralegal Association is about, and
those being influenced to have doubts about the Ontario Paralegal Association.

The Ontario Paralegal Association is the voice of the paralegal profession in Ontario. This came about by those who wanted both the Ontario Paralegal Association and the profession by putting in thousands of hours as volunteers.

Before I begin my message, I want to tell you how  proud I am to be the President of this Association, and to give credit to all of the previous Presidents of the Ontario Paralegal Association and is predecessor associations: John Tzanis, Robert Burd, Trevor Jaquard, Bruce Parson, Susan Koprich, Eileen Barnes, Chris Surowiak, Jame Moak and Stephen Parker, and all of the volunteers who have served with them and with the various Boards. Collectively their work has brought us to where we are as a profession today.

As we often hear, we’re in unprecedented times. We’re also in a time when we can make significant headway. In order to do this now – as always – it’s imperative that we unify to pursue our common interests. When we all row in the same direction, we can achieve greatness. Yes, we may differ and healthily disagree on many things – yet we share common interests when it comes to fundamental matters such as: scope of practice; direction of the profession; and the role we intend to play in the Ontario legal system.

I’d like to tell you about how I’ve approached being President of the Ontario Paralegal Association. I’ve chosen dialogue over rhetoric, and I’m proud to have done so. I have no apologies for my focus on assisting new members to get a foothold in the profession. I’ve never wanted to ‘suck up all the air’ as President. This is a team effort with the Board and Committees. It’s been great to see every member of the team take a significant role in moving us toward our objectives. They should be celebrated for stepping up to the plate to drive this beautiful association forward.

When I became President, the Board and I took over an organization facing numerous issues. We’ve made changes which I believe are for the better for all paralegals.

  • We changed the definition of who can be a voting member of the Ontario Paralegal Association. Now, simply having a P1 licence is all that’s needed; previously membership was restrictive and prevented people who are working, sadly not as practicing paralegals, from voting membership. If you have a P1, you deserve to have a voice in our association. This was just the first change to the By-laws.
  • We’ve been fiscally responsible, and today we sit on a significant positive balance of $80,000 in our accounts, even though we inherited financial problems. To achieve this, we’ve undertaken many measures including limiting travel expenses to over 100 km from our administrative offices, which means we don’t spend your membership fees on km travelled within the Greater Toronto Area.
  • Updated our website to include information that is useful for all paralegals.
  • We’ve secured all passwords and important documentation, to ensure we can affect smooth transitions, in a timely way, to future administrations. Peaceful transitions are the hallmark of democracies. We’ve brought the OPA’s financial records up to date for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, except for the 2018 records wherein we’ve been restricted access to email money transfers and bank drafts for the 2018 fiscal year.

We’ve been involved in legislative changes and amendments and are proud of our accomplishments including;

  • The option to become notaries;
  • The option to practice in areas of the criminal code as it relates to summary convictions;
  • Amendments to the RTA; and
  • We are currently working on proposed changes related to the immigration issue, and
  • Implementation of changes to allow practice in family law.

Despite all of these accomplishments, there continue to be groups attempting to undermine what the Ontario Paralegal Association represents. This is truly saddening, instead of celebrating all these improvements, they would rather rehash old grievances and to create their own little fiefdoms. These attempts take the form of disinformation and defamation through social media and continuous threats to Board members and to me about litigation. Such actions against us are frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process. It’s against our professional code of conduct to use litigation as a weapon – and surely agreements can be reached among professionals. We’ve done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment, and we will not back away from accusations and actions. Let me say here and now that any such actions will be vigorously defended. There will be no withdrawal without costs. To those who continue to threaten us with litigation, we say: bring it on.

I also have to say that I’m ashamed of some of our senior paralegals for the way they behave, misdirecting and confusing our young colleagues entering the profession, misrepresenting issues and defaming people. These senior paralegals are visibly stoking the fire, fanning the flames and making a mockery of our profession. You all know who you are. There are so many new paralegals – some are brilliant – who are so confused about what we do at the Ontario Paralegal Association because of your actions.

This profession has to decide NOW, what role it plays in this province. The answer cannot be left for tomorrow, we have to decide now. Do we intend to be, and behave as, professionals? Do we intend to set a shining example? Do you intend to have our fellow colleagues look up to us and admire the work we put in?

That’s the thing that truly plagues us. Some of our colleagues – lawyers – see it as a competence issue among paralegals. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a defeat-ism issue – we defeat ourselves. Let’s stop that self-defeating behaviour now. There’s a cautionary tale from the United Kingdom where the inability of the profession to manage itself well led to the government taking away the right to self-governance. Let’s not take for granted the right to chart our own futures. Let’s show that we are more than capable of self-regulation.

Our Board is always looking for the brightest amongst us to assist with moving our profession forward. Recently we invited a member, who is so devoted and dedicated to a particular important issue, to join the Board, to have a seat at the table, to be a leading part of the dialogue on this issue. We believed in his passion for the issue and were proud to nominate him. At that same time – without any notice to us, and without our knowledge – he had initiated litigation against a number of parties, named in his application, who have worked in partnership with Ontario Paralegal Association on matters of benefit to the full membership and who continue to do so. I cannot, in good conscience, bind myself or the Ontario Paralegal Association, to this application. I believe in dialogue and negotiation, not attempting to operate with a ‘gun’ to the head of parties we work with to achieve the objectives of our members. We’re building relationships that will propel us into achieving even greater heights.

The Board and I believe that the Attorney General is an honourable man. In good faith he and his staff has given us, and continues to give us, an audience on important matters. I will not break the trust that has developed. Similarly, I believe that the Law Society of Ontario has provided, and continues to provide, the Ontario Paralegal Association with an audience. They have acted in good faith with us, and we will not break that trust either.

It is my firm belief that negotiations that are done by way of a ‘gun’ are neither rewarding or lasting; negotiations done in good faith yield results that are long-lasting and open doors for the future. As a result of this, I have requested the resignation of this recently appointed member from the Board.

We’ve heard the rumblings of paralegals who want to create new, competing associations. Let me share a bit of recent history. There used to be many associations of paralegals in Ontario, but our colleagues saw that this wasn’t effective in moving the profession forward and they became one: the Ontario Paralegal Association. These great men and women laid the groundwork for the Ontario Paralegal Association. Without them, we would still be several small associations attempting to get the attention of major stakeholders. They should be commended for their foresight, not dragged through the mud. We’re better than petty squabbles that seem to plague social media.

While I believe we can have a range of associations, representing geographic regions, practice areas and other identifying groups, I believe we are stronger with one umbrella group representing our shared interests. I also believe that specialized associations are best formed without defaming and destroying what we’ve built together.

And so I say to all my colleagues – to the Ontario Paralegal Association Members, students in programs and recent graduates, and those on the fence. To those members who’ve been part of efforts to break our unity – please be careful where you’re leading this profession. This is a great profession and its members need to stand up now and answer this question: What kind of profession and professionals do we want to be?

Before I began this letter I intended to tender my resignation, however I’ve been encouraged by many people that I respect, not to do that.  Over the next couple of months, the Board will prepare the Ontario Paralegal Association for its transition to a new Board and President as this Board’s current term nears its completion. I will ask the Election Committee to prepare the Association and its members for elections. I, as well as the Board, promise you that the transition to a new Board will be seamless, professional and will be carried out in the presence of the Membership and not behind closed doors. This association deserves nothing less.

And so, I’m asking all of the members of the Ontario Paralegal Association to give me a vote of support and confidence. A vote of support for me, also means a vote of confidence for the Board of Directors that I have the pleasure to work with.

If you’re already a Member of the Ontario Paralegal Association, submit your Yes/No vote on the straightforward statement: I want the President of the Ontario Paralegal Association to continue in that role until the next elections. You can vote here.

Take a stand for your professional future. Because if you don’t do it now, when will you?

George Brown

President
Ontario Paralegal Association

 

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