A group of 32 Alberta law professors has sent an open letter to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro urging for a legislative amendment to the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Queen that students must make when called to the bar.
After Edmonton articling student Prabjot Singh Wirring decided to sue the province on the basis that swearing the specific oath would contradict his religious beliefs, law professors from Calgary and Edmonton decided to push for a change.
Anna Lund, an associate professor at the University of Alberta and one of the signatories on the letter, said the goal is to make the oath optional.
“I was called to the bar in 2008 and I gave the oath and I didn’t have a second thought about it,” Lund said. “But other people are coming from other backgrounds that makes the oath difficult for them. I think that it’s really important to us, in the legal profession, to listen to those voices, and to change.
“The argument that we’ve always done it this way and it worked for me, therefore, we’re always going to continue doing it this way, just doesn’t it doesn’t carry a lot of weight.”
In Alberta, provincial legislation requires lawyers swear an oath to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors.”
Wirring is a devout Amritdhari Sikh, and says he made an absolute oath and submitted himself to Akal Purakh, the divine being in the Sikh faith, and cannot make a similar allegiance to another entity or sovereign.
“I’m really deeply appreciative of the professors who took the initiative in coordinating writing the letter and signing on to give their public support. I think it’s reflective of the general sentiment within the legal community in Alberta,” Wirring told CBC.
“For a while now, the profession and the community at large is starting to recognize a lot of the systemic barriers that are excluding racialized groups and Indigenous lawyers from joining the board. There have been some really good efforts to combat and rectify it. I think everybody’s recognizing that this is really low hanging fruit. I’m not asking for the world.”
Other jurisdictions such as Ontario and B.C. have made the oath optional.
The province has not yet responded to a request for comment on the letter, though last week a spokesperson for the province declined to comment on Wirring’s legal challenge because the matter is before the courts.
Lund said changing the legislation would help make the legal profession more diverse.
“A real strength in Alberta is the diversity of people here. We’ve got a chance here to ensure that diversity is reflected in the legal profession. The legal profession will also be strengthened by diversity and it’d be unfortunate if we don’t do what we can to foster that,” Lund said.
The government’s statements of defence are set to be filed by July 15, with the court hearing after Oct. 7.