On the Canadian Institute of Planners’ “Statement of values and code of professional practice”

A discussion

Prepared 9 December 2010 for Prof. Raphaël Fischler (URBP612, McGill University).

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Reading review

Canadian Institute of Planners’ “Statement of values and code of professional practice”.

“As a professional organization, the Canadian Institute of Planners offers its members a definition of the public interest and a set of guidelines for ethical practice. What values are missing, according to you, from the Statement of Values? How useful do you find the code of conduct as you think of your current or future planning practice?”

Discussion

(This comment responds directly to discussion questions on the reader’s introduction page.)

First: what’s missing in the CIP document? It speaks very little about the responsibility to deliver a planning education of utmost quality for aspiring planners. I am completely aware this places our faculty on the bristled defensive.

This is a point of contention which was already expressed as a grievance recently, but to little avail. The orthodoxy of a pedagogical approach comparable to being thrown into the fire without so much as preparation before application plays into, I feel, the ethical responsibility for a planning educator to thoroughly prepare planning students for what they will face following.

With all due respect, I also feel that there is a marginal conflict-of-interest in maintaining that this pedagogical orthodoxy fundamentally “works” as-is, while at the same time the director is a sitting board member of a professional planning organization. Several alumni may beg to differ based on their post-academic experiences and the sense of preparation they felt they lacked when joining “the real world.”

Much has been spoken about “once in the real world,” but this rings more as a platitude than it does any acknowledgement that student-candidates in the room might have a fairly solid grasp of operating “in the real world” in the more universal contexts which matter most — irrespective the profession or vocation. One of those is taking the starting point of upholding respect for clients and giving them the benefit of doubt as they define their requirements for the job.

Professional discrimination

Another point missing in the “Planner’s Responsibility to the Profession and Other Members” section is the content of 3.13 on discrimination: “sexual orientation” in 2010 is still missing entirely. Really? If anything, the CIP should, at the very minimum, be harmonizing their non-discrimination clause to match our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a queer woman, it does not make me feel very welcome to the “club”. In fact, I worry that because I don’t conceal that I’m a queer woman, I’ll be permanently blacklisted from the planning profession before I ever get the chance to grow.

To harmonize discrimination policy would extend a good-faith commitment to the public that if members of the CIP are acting unethically and unprofessionally towards other planners or citizens specifically because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, then the CIP — despite any past traditions of social conservatism — would take such grievances as seriously as federal and provincial bodies would.

In contrast to some professions, this is especially important as optics go: planners are frequently in the employ of a civil body representing the public (i.e., the public corporation of a municipality or crown corporation of a province or federal government). If they are acting in a way which demonstrates their personal, intersectional bias against a marginal population class which is legally protected from discrimination — yet are not technically bound to the same under CIP’s rules of responsibility — then what does this say about the social integrity of planners on the whole? Inclusive language might even seem symbolic or superfluous to some, but once in place, it leaves no flex space for “creative” interpretations. If superfluousness concerns some CIP members, then there would not be a need to have an anti-discrimination clause in the first place. And yet.

How does this play out when a planning intervention involves an enclave or town whose principal demography falls beyond the CIP non-discrimination language, as explicitly written into the CIP’s statement of values? What if the planning intervention negatively benefits that population? What if it was later learnt that the planner responsible for preparing the framework for this negative outcome was found to have discriminated wilfully against hiring a fully qualified individual who hailed from that same population class?

If anything, 3.13 should simply read that CIP members shall, at the very minimum, uphold non-discrimination in harmony with federal law on non-discrimination, full-stop. It is not the place for the CIP to be itemizing which classes of people are not to be discriminated against. They should defer to higher authority. Or, where that higher authority is not picking up slack, CIP members should lead the charge on non-discrimination policy and praxis.

While a “Statement of Values and Code of Professional Practice” may be instructive as a guideline for those upholding standards in the profession, it needs something tangible for even the non-planning citizen to understand, so that they are informed as to the duties and oath a planner must make to do no harm.

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