Soma Ray-Ellis interview

Soma Ray-Ellis interview (video only), CP24, 2016.08.18.

Ray-Ellis on camera

Never asked once: If the allegations of workplace misbehaviour are true.

INTERVIEWER: Mathieu Chantelois was, until just a few weeks ago, the executive director of Pride Toronto, and then, uh, he resigned or he was pushed. We’re joined now by Soma Rae-Ellis, who is a very, um, well-known employment/labour lawyer in the City of Toronto. And you’re – you’re counsel?


— For Mathieu.

— I just got retained.

— S— OK, so why did he resign?

— Well, Mr. Chantelois had a very difficult decision to make. He had to choose between himself or the very cause that he’s dedicated his life to. ’Cause it had become very obvious to him after the parade that he was not gonna be able to satisfy all of the stakeholders. And so –

— Well, not – wa-wait a second. “Not satisfy all the stakeholders.” Because – I understand, from people in the community and people without the community, that it was the most successful Pride ever this year.

— I-it was indeed the most successful Pride ever. You – as you know, the prime minister, uh, walked during the parade. That was historical.

— Yeah.

— Mr. Chantelois increased the budget, uh, significantly, by millions of dollars. He took a festival that was week-long and made it a month-long celebration.

— OK. OK. So then how can he not satisfy people? Who wasn’t dissatisfied with it? Or was it because of – and there was that incident during the parade when Black Lives, uh, Matter in Toronto stopped the parade and he was seen – we have pictures of it – he was seen signing a declaration that the police would not be having a f— um, a float, uh, in the next one.

— Right, so, uh, he was in the middle of a, uh, storm? And along with another board chair, Mr. Chantelois signed an agreement that, uh, would allow the pa-parade to continue. And by the next day, he realized he was not gonna be in a position to satisfy all of those people. And it was better for him not to get into the middle of the storm and s— you, know, change the issues that need to be dealt with, which is about helping marginalized people, dealing with issues that communities feel they’re not being addressed, and instead of moving that into something that was going to be about him. Because i-in some ways he was going to be scapegoated no matter what, which is what has happened amongst certain people in terms of what – i-in terms of the fallout.

— OK. So, I mean, so he resigned.

— He resigned!

— Why is he – yeah. He’s no longer there. So why are you acting for him? What are you doing?

— Well, unfortunately, after he resigned, some people feel that they can take to social media or the larger media itself and say things that are defamatory. And I think that’s the real issue here, that when we have people who give their lives and put themselves in leadership positions, yes, they’re saying – you know, they may say “I can’t do everything all of you want me to do. Let me walk away.” And when you don’t let them walk away, you do not get a free pass. You cannot say whatever the hell you want. And just because there are allegations it does not mean it’s true. There’s no finding against him.

– Well, wouldn’t that – wouldn’t that fall into the category, Soma – and you’re a very experienced lawyer – of fair comment?

— You know, it’s-it’s not about fair comment. It’s about how we treat people. And we want the best of the best to take on leadership positions. We want them to try to move society along. We want them to push agendas that make society more inclusive. And in doing so, if you don’t satisfy everybody, you should be allowed to walk away. People should not be allowed to go to social media and say whatever they want. And so, uh, you know, we’re reviewing all of the things that have happened, and we’re reviewing his rights with respect to what’s happened. And so it’s at a very preliminary stage. But – you-you know that. We’re doing trial by media now, and it’s very damaging, and Mr. Chantelois is very hurt that, you know, he’s worked 20 years in this industry. These are – this is not just a job. This is his life. This is what – this is the [unintelligible]

– No, no, I mean, we know – he was here many times. We know that he was very involved with it and put a lot of passion behind it, a lot of – and clearly he got results for, uh, for Pride. Tell me, about, though, I know this kind – I don’t want to get too legalistic here – the worst thing to have on TV is two lawyers – but th-there is, there is a tort, the right of privacy, which is very – in its infancy, and has been used where someone has had their privacy invaded and you can – you can actually sue for that. There’s only been a few cases that I’ve read, uh, about that. Are you looking along those lines as well – so the right of privacy?

— I can’t comment on what we’re looking at right now. Uh, but we’re looking at every possible right that he has. But I think what’s important for people to understand is that you cannot hide behind social media, that we can get, you know, people’s names and addresses. And-and if you’re gonna be defamatory, then we can sue. And so it’s-it’s not OK to just malign people after the fact.

— Now if you were in the, in the previous federal government – you’re not, but I mean, this is a supposition. If this was something connected with the Harper government, people would be saying “Well, you’re-you’re clamping down on social discourse. You’re clamping down on-on the way that people can talk about things and lend their opinions.”

– Well, there’s freedom of speech and–

— Right.

— freedom of speech is qualified. You cannot be, you know, you cannot have hatred, you cannot have hatemongering, you cannot be discriminatory in your – in your speech. So freedom of speech is not an unqualified freedom. It is a qualified freedom – an important freedom, but a qualified one.

— OK, on that qualification, Soma, I’m out of time.

Update & correction (2016.08.21)

  • Rather bafflingly for someone who prizes accuracy, I misrendered Ray-Ellis’s name in early versions of this transcript. Then again, her law firm’s homepage also misrenders it: The surname is Ray-Ellis, not Ray space emdash space Ellis. I’m not correcting any slugs and filenames that use the incorrect spelling, as that causes more problems than it fixes.

  • Next: I checked Westlaw and CanLII for adjudicated cases in which Soma Ray or Soma Ray-Ellis was counsel. They are few and far between, and in the only notable case (Baisa v. Skills for Change, 2010 HRTO 1621), Ray-Ellis represented the employer later deemed responsible for an infringement of the Human Rights Code. I see no caselaw suggesting that Ray-Ellis has successfully represented disadvantaged litigants.