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Lawyers to give pronouns in B.C. court under new trans-inclusive policy

Last Updated Dec 16, 2020 at 1:26 pm PDT

B.C. Judge (Courtesy: Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca)
Summary

New policy asks lawyers and other parties to be introduced with their pronouns in B.C. courts

Misgendering and incorrect pronouns can create difficult situations in court, veteran lawyer says

Policy should require gender-neutral titles rather than "Mr." and "Ms.," says barbara findlay

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – In an effort to be more inclusive of transgender people, the Provincial Court of B.C. has created a new policy asking lawyers to provide pronouns when introducing themselves and their clients in court.

While some lawyers have already started including pronouns in their introductions, the court will now expect everyone to share how they wish to be referred to.

In a press release, the provincial court provided an example of such an introduction: “My name is Ms. Jane Lee, spelled L-E-E. I use she/her pronouns. I am the lawyer for Mx. Joe Carter who uses they/them pronouns.” (Mx. is a gender-neutral title.)

The policy was announced by Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie in a notice to lawyers and the public on Wednesday.

The court said the policy change will improve the experiences of gender diverse people in the legal system and would help avoid confusion and the need for corrections when someone is misgendered.

“Using incorrect gendered language for a party or lawyer in court can cause uncomfortable tension and distract them from the proceedings that all participants should be free to concentrate on,” the press release said.

“I think it’s a fantastic development for the court system in B.C.,” said Lisa Nevens, a Vancouver-based civil litigator who is gender non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.

Nevens said they already introduce themself with pronouns and the “Mx.” title, but this new policy will take the onus off people who may be more likely to be misgendered.

“Having a practice where everyone just does it, you don’t have to make assumptions, you don’t have to stand out in order to be properly addressed in court. [It] will make the system more inclusive for everyone and more accessible for lawyers and witnesses and other participants alike,” they said.

Nevens has pushed for such policy changes as the co-chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section of the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. branch.

They said the courts still have more work to do, including moving away from gendered titles for judges such as “my lord” and “my lady.”

Wednesday’s policy change is a step in the right direction, according to barbara findlay, a queer feminist lawyer with more than four decades of experience in B.C. courts who does not capitalize her name.

“Up until now, courts, like everybody else, [have] judged the gender of counsel either by how counsel looks or by the kind of name they have: a boy name or a girl name,” she said. “First of all, those judgments are often wrong – and second, male and female do not exhaust the categories.”

Findlay said she has seen judges misgender lawyers in court, creating a “difficult situation” in which the individual doesn’t want contradict the judge but also doesn’t want the mistake to remain on the record uncorrected.

“So, really the only way for a court – or for anybody – to know what someone’s gender is, is to ask,” findlay said.

Findlay said she was disappointed to see the new policy will ask for gendered titles such as “Mr.” and “Ms.,” rather than gender-neutral terms such as “Counsel” preceding a surname.