B.C. Chief Justice's retirement gives opportunity to diversify bench

  • March 03, 2023

By Liza Yuzda for CityNews

Increasing diversity is top of mind for many in B.C.’s legal realm as the process is underway to appoint a new person to the top job.

B.C.’s current chief justice, Robert Bauman, is retiring from the position come October, after serving in the role since 2013.

This provides an opportunity to diversify the role, and bring change to the position that has historically been held by white men.

“I walk down the hallways of the B.C. supreme court, I look at the portraits, and none of them look like me, and that doesn’t make me feel like I belong in this profession,” Vancouver-based Metis lawyer Kyla Lee told CityNews. “I don’t think [it] reinforces the idea for other people that they need to make sense for people from more diverse backgrounds.”

Lee says the problems candidates for the top job see are compounded by a lack of diversity at all levels in the legal profession.

“One of the realities that are often overlooked is that the barriers that people from diverse backgrounds have to overcome, to get to be able to apply for those positions mean that the pool of candidates for those jobs is so small,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the head of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association, Aleem Bharmal, says there is a concerted push for increasing diversity across the board.

“To start promotion, not just at the end when we’re trying to encourage people who are qualified to apply, but also at the front end — encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to think about the legal profession as a choice, to encourage them through law school,” Bharmal explained.

However, he notes that while the bar encourages people to apply, sometimes a preferred candidate doesn’t want the job.

“This obviously is a wonderful opportunity, but it’s a complex issue,” he said, adding that they have to be a “representative of the courts, they have administrative duties, so not all justices are interested in that position.”

Canada’s first Indigenous Supreme Court of Canada justice was appointed in 2022, with the first justice of color on that court was appointed in 2019.