(Black Press Media files)

Lawyer competence includes knowledge of Indigenous-Crown history: B.C. law society

All practising lawyers in B.C. will be required to take a six-hour online course covering these areas

The Law Society of British Columbia has moved to require Indigenous cultural competency training for all practising lawyers in the province, in response to gaps in legal education that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified.

“Lawyers and the law created a justice system that discriminates against Indigenous people,” said Law Society president Nancy Merrill, noting that it was illegal for a lawyer to take a retainer from an Indigenous person until the 1960s.

“That’s still recent history,” she said. “We need to move forward.”

Last week, the law society’s board of governors determined that lawyer competence includes knowledge of the history of Indigenous-Crown relations, the history and legacy of residential schools and specific legislation regarding Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Beginning in 2021, all practising lawyers in B.C. will be required to take a six-hour online course covering these areas, as well as legislative changes that could arise from the province’s newly enacted Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

Lawyers will have up to two years to complete the course the mandatory course, which is a first among law societies across Canada, Merrill said.

“The law society’s role is to protect the public interest in the administration of justice,” said Vancouver-based lawyer Michael McDonald, who co-chaired the law society’s truth and reconciliation advisory committee. He is also a member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba.

“Serving the public interest means a knowledge of the facts of history, even if that history does not show our society in a good light.”

Historically, the legal system was an agent of harm for Indigenous peoples and in some ways it continues to be, McDonald said, pointing to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prisons and the judicial system.

Issues of concern to Indigenous peoples permeate all areas of the law, he said, from criminal and family law to corporate law to environmental law to intellectual property and trademark law.

Law students in B.C. are getting some cultural competency training already, but many lawyers have been practising for decades and some are coming to the province from other jurisdictions, said McDonald, adding that the requirements passed by the law society are the “baseline minimum.”

It’s important to support criminal justice lawyers with basic knowledge of key aspects of Indigenous experiences in Canada, such as the ’60s Scoop, during which Canadian government policies facilitated the apprehension of thousands of Indigenous children who were placed with non-Indigenous foster families, McDonald said.

“People who become more aware of that can then use that to inform the quality of their legal services,” he said.

Many real estate lawyers also lack knowledge about the Indian Act and how to strike development deals on reserves, said McDonald.

“If you’re not aware of the internal politics and the history and culture of the people that give you your instructions, how are you going to be a good lawyer in that deal?”

There is a plan to develop more specific, supplementary courses in the future, he said, which would be voluntary.

In its report released in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, including the history and legacy of residential schools, treaties and Indigenous rights, Indigenous law, and Indigenous-Crown relations, as well as training in conflict resolution and anti-racism.

John Borrows, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria, said he hopes the law society’s cultural competency training might one day delve into Indigenous communities’ own laws and legal traditions.

“It’s opening up those spaces to see Indigenous law, to see the agency of Indigenous clients and the context that they operate from,” he said.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Port Hardy Mounties help First Nation chief build smokehouse

‘We have great maya’xala for all the community members, in each of the communities…’

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Access to remote Side Bay beach up in the bureaucratic air

Roads to the pristine north west coast Vancouver Island beach at risk of being deactivated

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

Body discovered floating in water near Lasqueti Island

JRCC reports personnel aboard fishing vessel made the find

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Most Read