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Tweets by lawyer investigating gender-neutral pronoun controversy suggest he supports ‘forced speech’

Lawyers have an ‘obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion’

The lawyer hired by Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University to investigate a classroom incident involving gender-neutral pronouns has publicly taken sides on an issue related to the investigation.

Rob Centa, managing partner at Paliare Roland, has frequently tweeted about diversity and inclusion in law from his professional account, including his support for a controversial new requirement for lawyers that critics characterize as “forced speech.”

The Law Society of Upper Canada licenses lawyers and paralegals in Ontario, where WLU is based. It started reminding legal professionals in September to submit a “Statement of Principles” confirming their “obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion,” and rejected a proposed exemption for “conscientious objectors” earlier this month.

The intention of the change is to “address the barriers faced by racialized licensees,” which is the society’s term for nonwhite legal professionals.

The regulator encourages striving for “substantive equality,” which “does not always require treating all people the same.” To reiterate, it says: “Equality does not mean treating all people the same for all purposes.”

Queen’s University Law Prof. Bruce Pardy, a member of the Ontario society, warned in October that the new rules violated freedom of expression, protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Had this requirement been imposed upon another of the governed professions … they would hire a lawyer to protect their right to think and speak for themselves,” Pardy wrote in the National Post. “This time, it is the lawyers themselves whose ability to argue about the law’s propriety is threatened.”

MORE: Student investigated for gender-neutral pronoun debate may lose job

It’s not ‘political speech’

When WLU graduate student Lindsay Shepherd showed her undergraduate communications class a TV debate on gender-neutral pronouns, the campus LGBT center filed an informal complaint on behalf of an offended student.

Shepherd’s exposure of students to the view that they didn’t have to use gender-neutral pronouns when asked – a form of compelled speech – could violate the campus “gendered and sexual violence policy” by “spreading transphobia,” a diversity officer staffer told her.

Investigator Centa was hired to investigate both the classroom incident and Shepherd’s subsequent meeting with two professors and the diversity staffer, where she was also told that her pedagogy violated Canada’s gender-identity law C-16.

Centa has said his review is “employment-related” but has not specified whether Shepherd is under investigation for violating the gendered and sexual violence policy.

The lawyer, who publicly identifies his law firm in his Twiter profile, seems to support the movement toward compelled speech in the name of diversity, judging by several tweets between late October and November.

Three days before WLU announced Centa would lead the “fact-finding” on the Shepherd incident, he tweeted an article that quoted colleague Tina Lie defending the Ontario society’s new rules, saying he was “proud” of her.

MORE‘I wonder if my mere presence is simply too triggering now’

“People seem to consider the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion as being an issue of political belief or political speech. I don’t see it that way,” Lie said. “If we want to improve the administration of justice, we absolutely need to advance the diversity goal that the law society has put out there.”

Centa said he was “proud” of Lie days earlier when she was speaking about “advancing diversity” at a Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers event – also sponsored by their law firm.

He also retweeted colleague Denise Cooney, who characterized the new society rules as promoting “humility, discussion and compassion.” She shared an article that denied the new rules were “compelled speech” but said Canadian lawyers “do not have the freedom to remain silent” about diversity.

MORE: Canadian court rebukes law society for anti-Christian bigotry

Even in tweets about his life outside work, Centa promoted the idea that diversity was not optional.

He quoted a jazz musician who told his audience “Diversity should not be tolerated, it should be celebrated,” and said he was “proud” of the Golden State Warriors for hosting an LGBTQ night at their contest with the Toronto Raptors.

Centa did not respond to inquiries by The College Fix regarding his views on the intersection of diversity and speech on college campuses. The WLU administration also did not respond to Fix inquiries on Centa’s objectivity and position on freedom of expression.

MOREWLU regrets telling TA she broke law by showing a debate

Support for LGBTQ community is ‘resolute and unshakable’

Under heavy pressure from the campus LGBTQ community to acknowledge threats to transgender students in the wake of the Shepherd controversy, WLU President Deborah MacLatchy released a “message of support for LGBTQ2 community” last week. (The “2” apparently refers to “two-spirited” individuals and is common parlance in Canada.)

In the statement, MacLatchy promises to keep its campuses “welcoming and engaging places for all people and all identities” and says it has “created and communicated additional supports” and “added measures to improve campus safety.”

“There is no place at Laurier for bigotry, discrimination, intolerance or marginalization,” MacLatchy wrote: “Laurier’s support for our LGBTQ2 campus community is resolute and unshakable.”

The administration also did not respond to multiple email and phone inquiries from The Fix regarding the new support and safety measures to protect students.

MOREProfessor bans laptops to prevent Shepherd from recording her

MOREUniversity that upholds biblical sex beats accreditation challenge

IMAGE: Pop Paul-Catalin

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Grace Curtis is a rising senior at Converse College and studies English literature and writing. In addition to The Fix, Grace writes for her college newspaper, The Conversationalist, and contributes to The Odyssey.

Add to the Discussion

  • Patriarchy Pete

    The ultimate document, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says nothing of gender or gender identity. It does mention sex, however, and the case law has shown precedent for sexual preference being covered by it as well, but that’s it. As it stands right now, the compelled nature of C-16 violates Secton 2 (b) of the charter that holds unassailable rights for freedom of thought, belief and opinion. If anyone set off a charter challenge of the very illogical C-16, that law would fall as it should.

    • Susan Longley

      Well said!

  • Susan Longley

    Thank you Grace Curtis for this article and thanks to the courage of Lindsay Shepherd and Don Kilpatrick’s dissonant views regarding the dictates of the LSUC.

    The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) in its wisdom, has created a parallel problem to Wilfred Laurier University (WLU) and the ongoing saga of free speech rights and Lindsay Shepherd’s applauded struggle against WLU administration and opponents of free speech both in academia and elsewhere.

    The appointment of lawyer Robert Centa ([email protected]) as the person to investigate and report on the entire so called “Lindsay Shepherd Affair” has been determined by WLU. The legal society enters similar territory of free speech as described by Lindsay Shepherd spirited challenge to WLU. Meanwhile, as many persons have pointed out, the LSUC has recently required all of its member lawyers in Ontario to submit a formal approval to its extremely controversial response to so called “systemic racism” not only in the general public but specifically the legal profession.

    To the average Ontarian the LSUC directive regarding systemic racism has more in common to demands from students at Evergreen College or the outrageous requirements from a contingent of Black Lives Matter. These demands are hardly credible and are certainly not reflective of a distinguished and prestigious provincial legal society. Donald Kilpatrick ([email protected] ) a lawyer from south west Ontario examines the data underpinning the Law Society’s determination of systemic racism in the industry. In reading the summary of the Middlesex Law Association regarding systemic racism in the legal profession Kilpatrick magnificently rebukes the findings of the LSUC and condemns the very notion of a racialized profession.

    Don Kilpatrick’s arguments are clearly articulated in a recent post at the Middlesex Law Society and open letter to the LSUC voicing the Middlesex Law Association’s concerns with its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity initiative and articulated clearly by Kilpatrick has been sent.. These are lawyers rebuking the supposed findings of LSUC and supporting free speech.


    Now to Robert Centa, the lawyer hired by Wilfrid Laurier University to fact find the entire fiasco unearthed by grad student Lindsay Shepherd. Also to perhaps make some recommendations regarding employment issues involving the alleged players. By his tweets and blog notes (as reported by The College Fix) Centa is found to be a staunch supporter of the LSUC position regarding (one lawyer pejoratively suggests” virtue sniveling”) diversity and systemic racism. Centa is good at promoting a lawyer and colleague Tina Lie, an Asian Canadian and a personal indicator of his law firms’s alliance with diversity as defined by the LSUC.

    In my view, it is a problem of credibility. I find the opinions adopted by the Law Society of Middlesex County as far more credible than Centa’s apparent views and argued in an extremely credible manner. The question for me is credibility. Centa’s views are highly questionable. From a review of his own tweets alone I question his dispassionate objectivity as an arbiter of matters related to race, identity and ethnicity. His ideological position remains highly questionable.

    Advice to Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy at WLU. Whatever Centa’s findings regarding the Lindsay Shepherd affair, beware of the reports and recommendations if any. The choice of Robert Centa is very debatable. The integrity and credibility of Centa’s personal and professional views have already been put up to question His subsequent legal position regarding racism and discrimination are highly suspect. His apparent views in response to the directives of the LSUC very much places him in the cross hairs of free speech advocates everywhere.

    The link for the Law Society of Middlesex County in Ontario has for some unknown reason become inaccessible. The subsequent letter to the LSUC is mysteriously unavailable.

  • dds100

    Equality, diversity and inclusion are poison, not virtue.

    With ‘Diversity™’:

    Inclusion = forced association, liberty = serve the state, diversity™ =
    non-White interests, ‘equality’ = the higher subsidize the lower, we’re
    all in this ‘together’ = (hands up $$$) — OR ELSE

  • Tigger

    …”denied the new rules were “compelled speech” but said Canadian lawyers “do not have the freedom to remain silent” about diversity”… This is complete nonsense. If you do not have the freedom to be silent you by definition are being compelled to speak.

  • Abu Nudnik

    Equity means hiring lawyers so stupid they sit in Congress worrying that Puerto Rico could “capsize” under the weight of more military personnel. A 14 year old knows islands don’t float.

  • GulfPundit

    Substantive Equality: The use of discrimination to end discrimination.

    • Very ANTIFA! Centa was a member of various associations while at York University. None of them promoted values or tradition.

  • creativeusernamehere

    Lawyers have no obligation to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion.

  • Rob has always been a “problem”. He has always had a dopey quest. The need to fight against traditional cultural mores. In Centa’s world everything is racist! Something phobic! Or unjust! He is a contrarian who sought out attention, drama and protest. Oh, I’m sure he’s a great guy: When he’s sleeping! Finally, this is a guy who stated the term “two spirited” is in common parlance. One is left to wonder the last time he interacted outside his circle of influence.