Discrimination and harassment are demeaning practices that attack the dignity and self-respect of the victim. Lawyers and paralegals who are licensed by the Law Society, as well as student members of the Law Society who are in the licensing process, have a professional obligation not to engage in such conduct. Discrimination and harassment based on the grounds prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code are also prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Paralegal Rules of Conduct that govern lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.
The DHC Program is an innovative service designed to prevent and respond to human rights based discrimination and harassment by Ontario lawyers, paralegals, and student members of the Law Society. The Program's services are available free of charge to members of the legal profession and members of the public, including clients of lawyers and paralegals, as well as employees who work for lawyers or paralegals.
Although the Program is funded by the Law Society of Ontario, the DHC works independently from the Law Society in a separate office in which all information received is kept in strict confidence.
In 1997, the Law Society of Ontario celebrated both its bicentennial and the 100th anniversary of women in the profession. To mark this occasion, the Law Society embarked on a historical review of its work on equity issues and developed a number of recommendations to guide its future work in this area. These recommendations were published in the Bicentennial Report and Recommendations on Equity Issues in the Legal Profession (Bicentennial Report).
One of the recommendations of the Bicentennial Report was that the Law Society establish a "Safe Counsel Program" for the victims of harassment and discrimination by lawyers. It was envisioned that such a program would provide complainants with access to assistance independent from the Law Society. As a result of this recommendation, in June 1999, the Law Society established the DHC Program as a part-time pilot-project to help stop discrimination and harassment by lawyers. The Program became permanent in June 2001 and applicable to complaints against paralegals when the Law Society began regulating paralegals in 2007. The DHC Program is staffed by one regular Counsel and two Alternate Counsel who perform the functions of the regular Counsel if, for any reason, the regular Counsel is unable to act (for example, if the Counsel is unavailable or has a conflict of interest in respect of a particular complaint).