Eye On Regulation

We take for granted at the opening of a tribunal hearing or court application that we will be asked to introduce ourselves, spell our name for the record and state our role in the hearing.
Canada Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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the scenario

Gender-Inclusive Language and Respectful Forms of Address

We take for granted at the opening of a tribunal hearing or court application that we will be asked to introduce ourselves, spell our name for the record and state our role in the hearing. We ask witnesses if they wish to be sworn or affirmed and whether we are pronouncing their name correctly. These respectful forms of address are almost done without thinking. However, when it comes to people's gender – we often rely on assumptions based on their name, appearance or voice.

Courts in Canada, the US, and various tribunals have developed protocols to help tribunal members, and the parties who appear before them, understand expectations when introducing themselves and their witnesses.

At the bottom of this article are links to videos and example scripts to use. For example, if I were to appear before a tribunal as legal counsel, I would introduce myself as follows: "Good morning, my name is Carol Zukiwski spelled 'Z U K I W S K I', I am counsel for the Tribunal, and I use the pronouns she/her."

So what are some of the other protocols that your tribunal can use:

  • The tribunal can lead by example :
    • staff and decision-makers would introduce themselves in the same way;
    • name tags would include the person's pronouns;
    • Email signatures would include pronouns;
    • the name description on the screen for virtual hearings would include pronouns; and
    • the signature at the end of a Tribunal decision would include pronouns;
  • The Tribunal can communicate its expectations to the parties through the following:
    • update its Hearing Procedure Guide;
    • add a space on the complaint or appeal form for a person to identify their pronouns;
    • when the Tribunal directs the parties to exchange legal argument and witness statements in advance of the hearing, ask the authors to indicate their pronouns below their signatures; and
    • as part of the preparation for the hearing have the staff ask the parties for the pronouns and honorific for each person attending so that the Presiding Officer has this information.

CBA British Columbia – Pronouns in Court Toolkit (cbabc.org)

Gender-Inclusive Language in the Courts: How to Communicate with Fairness, Dignity, Impartiality, and Accuracy (ncsc.org)

A) Equal Access to the Courts | Preventing Misgendering in Canadian Courts: Respectful Forms of Address Directives | CanLII

our two cents for free

On a personal level, as I was writing this article, I struggled to put my thoughts together, and it seemed to be more than my usual procrastination. It finally hit me that I was dragging my heels, because of my own personal unease with the topic. That caused me to dig a little deeper and reflect on the cause of my unease, was it a lack of knowledge, an unconscious bias, or stubbornness to accept change.

At the end of the day, I concluded that it was a lack of knowledge of the pronouns to use, what they meant, and a resistance to change.


What is your own response to this issue, and how can you apply it to your own tribunal?

Eye on Regulation is RMRF's monthly newsletter for the professional regulatory community. Each month we offer:

  • A Case: a (very) brief summary of a recent and relevant case;
  • Our Two Cents for Free: practical insight inspired by the files on our desks right now; and
  • A Question: something to get you thinking about ways to enhance your work.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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