The organization that regulates Alberta lawyers met Monday to affirm a rule requiring mandatory training on Indigenous culture, history and legal issues in Canada.
The vote, which began as a petition to remove the rule that allows for the regulator to require training, was overwhelmingly in favour of keeping mandatory Indigenous cultural awareness training. In total, 2,609 lawyers voted to keep the requirement and 864 voted to remove.
The Law Society of Alberta (LSA) issued an open letter to the province’s 11,102 actively practicing lawyers Jan. 31, asking them to support the requirement at a special meeting Monday.
There were 3,740 active members at the meeting, according to sources who were in attendance. That is about 42 per cent of those who practice law in Alberta.
The course is called “The Path” and became a required continuing education course in April of 2021. Members were given 18 months to complete the training which reportedly takes five hours – but can also be downloaded and read as a transcript. People with lived experience, or professional practice, were able to apply for an exemption to this training.
Opposition to the mandatory training
Leighton Grey, a First Nations lawyer who has status under the Indian Act, opposed the letter. He has worked with Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) on court challenged to lockdowns and vaccine mandates.
The group is an advocacy organization specializing in a social conservative approach to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He is a part of 50 lawyers who introduced a motion to eliminate the rule that mandated The Path training.
“My issue is that what the Law Society of Alberta has done is not based on data. It is instead based on political ideology. I completed The Path and found it to be rife with inaccuracy and skewered by a post modernist history of [I]ndigenous peoples in Canada,” wrote Grey.
Grey also referred to the men and women who worked at Indian Residential Schools as “dedicated men and women” in his letter.
Grey signed the letter with a band registration number from Carry the Kettle Nation. APTN News contacted Carry the Kettle Nation who said he’s not a registered member of the band.
Truth and Reconciliation
The TRC issued its final report in 2015 along with 94 calls for action targeted at Canadian institutions in including the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, “to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.”
Sarah Kriekle, along with four others, organized a letter to the benchers of the LSA which makes decisions as a self-regulating body, in support of the training. The letter had 400 lawyers sign on in support.
“I am happy so many people turned up… and I am happy with the outcome I think the law society has broad authority to make decisions about continuing education requirements,” said Kriekle.
“It’s not cultural indoctrination it is about learning the past… a lot of lawyers in the profession would not have learned about this in elementary…grade school or law school.
“The public should know that the majority were overwhelmingly in support of this training.”
The law society’s position is that there is intense scrutiny around self-regulating professions and there is a need to show the public that they align with public concerns and values.
“If we value self-regulation, we must ensure that we continue to discharge our duties using the lens of the public interest in everything we do, including continuing professional development,” says a letter signed by the benchers.
Kriekle agreed that it’s important that the law society keep pace with societal expectations, and that not doing so could create an environment where lawyers are not able to be a self-regulating profession.
“Indigenous people are a part of the population of Alberta and understanding how the legal system has perpetuated systemic issues goes directly to our competence as lawyers,” said Kriekle.
The Path course
A transcript of the course material obtained by APTN News shows that the course reviews the different terminology used for Indigenous people, stereotypes about the community, and Columbus ill-fated journey to Canada that resulted in the First Peoples being called “Indian.”
The course also discusses high suicide rates, child poverty and the over incarceration of Indigenous people.
“While Indigenous people make up about 5 [per cent] of the population, they represent 27 [per cent] of its prison population,” it said.
The course also discusses the death of Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan and the not guilty verdict of Gerald Stanley, the man who shot and killed him. It also deals with Thunder Bay after multiple details and disappearances of First Nations youth.
Support for the course
The Indigenous Bar Association in Canada released a statement calling on the LSA to support Indigenous cultural competency education and applauding the organization’s decision to make the training mandatory.
Others, including Brooks Arcand-Paul, a member of Alexander First Nation who is featured in The Path training, came to the meeting to speak about his support in raising awareness about the oppression of Indigenous people.
Arcand-Paul is a Nehiyaw lawyer who is also a candidate for the Alberta New Democratic Party. He said he was not at the meeting to speak for the NDP.
“It is truly difficult to have to defend our humanity every time something like this happens…when you look at the numbers of how we are overrepresented in the justice system. A lot of people who have interactions with our folks are in this profession. They are lawyers and judges,” Brooks Arcand-Paul told APTN News after the meeting.
Arcand-Paul said he was disturbed by remarks made during the meeting, which associational the LSA’s top-down approach to setting requirements to the top-down approach of residential schools.
“It’s demoralizing but to be fair I could not be more proud of the result and the support that people in this profession have shown today,” said Brooks Arcand-Paul.
But Glen Blackett, a litigator for JCCF, has condemned the Law Society of Alberta for suspending 30 members who did not complete the training.
Blackett opposed the mandatory training and took issue with the language used in The Path. He wrote an article on right-wing websites the Dorchester Review and the Western Standard and the training a threat to liberal democracy and stated that the training promotes hatred towards Canadians.
“The vitriol directed at Canadians in the Path seems less likely to promote reconciliation than to promote a distorted perception of history and of the causes of socioeconomic disparity, anger, shame, and enduring indigenous alienation,” wrote Blackett.
Blackett spoke at the meeting as well saying that his opposition was not about race.