Monday, October 06, 2014

Canadian Lawyer magazine apologizes for and withdraws controversial cover

Canadian Lawyer magazine is attempting to mend fences -- and its reputation -- over the illustration on its September 2014 cover, which purported to show the lack of diversity on the Canadian bench.  The monthly, published by Thomson Reuters Canada, issued an apology Friday and said it has withdrawn the cover from the website (see below*). 

The U.S.-based website Above the Law reported that, among others, a student group from McGill University took the lead in protesting the use of the illustration. In a letter to the editors, the students said:
"While we appreciate the attention called to the need to increase the proportion of women and visible minorities on the bench, we question why the stylized cover portrays an apparently incarcerated black man glaring at a white woman. This cover is troublesome as it reinforces existing negative stereotypes about visible minorities, women and criminality, and thereby affects how the important issue of diversity on the bench is framed and discussed."
Canadian Lawyer responded with what is usually called a "non-apology apology", although it said it sincerely regretted that the image was seen as reinforcing negative stereotypes and that it was never the magazine's intention.
"The intent of the cover was to illustrate a woman waiting and having to bide her time trying to figure out the password or key to get through a locked door, consistent with the theme of the article. The figure behind the door with a speakeasy-type slider is in the shadows, representing the gatekeeper of the establishment/old order looking askew at this person trying to break the code and get into the private club (ie: the bench)."
The students responded, in part:
"Such a response demonstrates to us a troubling lack of regard for a significant portion of your readership that took the time and effort to bring this issue to your attention. It also demonstrates a lack of concern for the issue of diversifying the judiciary with respect to visible minorities who make up an even less significant portion of judges than women. Regardless of your intent, your actions have left us with a troubling caricature of a black man as a symbol of the “old boys” network that acts to keep women off the bench – a symbol that is in contradiction to reality since black men make up a very small percentage of judges in Canada. Both the troubling and factually incorrect aspects of the image leaves us wondering about the extent of your magazine’s commitment to diversify the bench in regards to visible minorities and women."
Ultimately, Canadian Lawyer issued a full apology* dated October 3, including removing the image from its website. Editor Gail Cohen, who is editor of both Canadian Lawyer and Law Times, signed the statement which said, in part:
Canadian Lawyer team would like to apologize for the image on our September 2014 cover. The image was intended to reinforce the subject of the cover article — the lack of transparency in the judicial appointments process and the resulting limited diversity on the bench — but as we have heard from a number of readers, it conveyed a very different message and undermined this important discussion. 

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