Abusive workplace climate at the AG
Lawyers are typically considered as smart and powerful, as a group. They enjoy a love hate relationship within the general population. So many people dislike lawyers, mostly litigators, primarily because they do not understand the nature of the work that lawyers do.
Despite lawyers’ reputtion as champions for freedom, justice and democracy, it seems that their reality is different, at least those who work for the Attorney General of Ontario. In a recent news article, a leaked report chronicled lawyers at the Attorney General of Ontario experiencing racism, sexism and abuse at the hand of senior managers. The Toronto Star article that exposed the situation quoted portions of the leaked, secret report.
The Attorney General is supposed to be the highest law-maker in the land. As a society we know that we are in trouble when workplace abuses continue unabated within the Attorney General’s office. To be clear, the political leaders can minimal effect change because as office holders their tenure is far too tentative. The legal responsibility for the Ministry’s affairs and day to day operations lies with the Deputy Minister, often a political appointment, but frequently a career civil servant. That racism, sexism and other workplace abuses continue to occur in the very establishment cloaked with the responsibility to protect democracy and guard justice and fairness is shattering.
Contrary to the widely held belief that lawyers are all powerful, the relaity at the Attorney General’s office is that senior managers are left unchecked and carry out abuses with impunity. How can that be? In the face of the content of the secret report exposed by the Toronto Star how are we to trust that the Attorney General’s office is anything more than the puppet for powerful special interests?
When a lawyer is directed to change his or her legal opinion to soothe the interests of an external agency border-line fraud is being committed. When writing a legal opinion, lawyers comb through case law, legislation, and a variety of other authorities before coming to a resting place. A legal opinion is a carefully drafted document that results from many hours of work. To direct that it be changed simply to satisfy external interests is rather unethical. How can those making those demands continue to have a job with the Attorney General? How do those folks sustain their positions and at the same time talk about ridding corruption in government? In its entirety, the secret report exposed by the Toronto Star raises questions of oversight and supervision at the senior management level within the ministry. One has to wonder whether the human resources department at the Attorney General conducts exit interviews of staff, inclusive of lawyers who leave the establishment. If so, what trends are observed and what is done about it? Is the human resources office at the Attorney GFeneral complicit in sustaining workplace abuses? How does the Auditor General miss reporting on the toxic workplace environment at the Attorney General that has reportedly gone on for so many years, according to the Toronto Star report? The Toronto Star article quotes a spokesperson from the Attorney General reciting talking points presumably prepared by the agency’s communications experts about the importance of a healthy work environment. How can we take those words seriously? Are those words just hot air emanating from operatives intent of damage control in the wake of the report becoming public? Those words seem rather empty with little semblance of a genuine desire to clean up the workplace.
We expect our Attorney General to be a model employer that works diligently to uphold a model workplace in which employees’ health and wellness are of paramount concer. Productivity requires it. But more importantly, using taxpayers funds to achieve an abusive workplace is not what is expected from the legal guardian of the public purse and public policy. Spending taxpayers’ money in such a way as to entrench a revolving door, sustain staff turn over, generate stress and illness and create an extreme cullture of fear amongst employees is wreckless conduct.
It is time to clean house at the Attorney General office. It is time for someone to take a hard look at the ministry and its place in the provincial democracy and terminate the employment of people who waste taxpayers’ funds simply because of bad management. Why should taxpayers’ reward bad managers with senior positions and a good, comfortable, and cushy life? We should not.
Given that the situation at the Attorney General has now been publicly exposed, the Premier should be required to report to the house on the Attorney General’s efforts to clean up its workplace and transform it into a centre for excellence-a model workplace. All abusive managers responsible for creating or sustaining the current workplace environment should be named, and obviously relieved of their duties which effectively means being removed from the sunshine list. Nothing short of a complete overall will do. We cannot permit this matter to be swept under the rug and inaction continue to be normative. Let’s not render our lawyers powerless in an all powerful ministry. One last thing, to the extent that the senior managers resiponsible for commiting o supporting these abuses and unethical conduct are themselves lawyers, it is time for the Law Society to step in..