By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Alberta lawyers voted Monday morning to reject a resolution that would have done away with mandatory training in Indigenous cultural competency.
Unofficially, 2,609 of the 3,473 active members of the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) who voted wanted the LSA to continue to mandate professional development requirements as they saw fit and in an appropriate time frame. That number represented approximately 75 per cent of those who voted. According to the law society there are over 10,000 lawyers in the province.
“There were powerful statements made about the importance of self-regulation and about educating ourselves, as legal professionals, on the legal history and relationship of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. I am proud of my profession and the Alberta Bar today,” said Koren Lightning-Earle, legal director at Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge at the University of Alberta.
A petition had been brought forward by 50 active members of the society who wanted to do away with Rule 67.4, which allows Benchers (board members) to “prescribe continuing professional development requirements to be completed by members, in a form and manner, as well as time frame, acceptable to the Benchers.”
At the time the petition sparked a resolution on the matter, only one professional development requirement was in place and that was for the Indigenous cultural competency course called The Path.
Roger Song, who organized the petition, referred to the “pain of automatic suspension” that was the result of not completing The Path. In November, 26 lawyers were put on administrative suspension.
Another signatory, Glenn Blackett, a litigator with the justice centre, wrote an article for The Dorchester Review, saying The Path was “re-education, or indoctrination, into a particular brand of wokeness called `decolonization’.” He also questioned the legality of LSA to mandate “cultural re-education.”
Lightning-Earle, who served as the LSA’s Indigenous initiatives liaison for a number of years, did the initial work that led to the creation of The Path.
The course was the law society’s response to the 2015 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the legacy of Indian residential. With 18 of 94 calls aimed at the justice system, Call 27, in part, directs “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.”
Lightning-Earle, Hadley Friedland and Heather (Hero) Laird, all with connections to the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, along with active LSA members Sarah N. Kriekle, a member of the Metis Nation of Alberta, and Anna Lund with UAlberta Faculty of Law sent a letter Feb. 2 to the Law Society of Alberta Benchers supporting the mandatory Indigenous cultural competency training.
“The history of treatment of Indigenous people in Canada by the legal system, including the legal profession, warranted a requirement that those who practice law in Canada be educated on this history,” they wrote.
In just over 48 hours, the letter garnered signatures from 524 lawyers, law professors, articling students, law students, legal organizations and other supporters, including 400 active members of the law society.
On Jan. 31, all 24 Benchers of the law society issued a letter asking members to vote against the resolution to rescind Rule 67.4.
On Jan. 30 the Canadian Bar Association Alberta Branch stated its support for the Rule 67.4, saying the law society as regulator “should have the authority to determine which learning activities are necessary to maintain a high professional standard and the integrity of the legal profession as one that serves the public interest.”
With the failure of the resolution, no further action will be required by the law society.
The Benchers mandated The Path in October 2020 as continuing professional development for the law society. That mandate was followed by the adoption of Rule 67.4 allowing Benchers to prescribe specific continuing professional development.
Lawyers are given 18 months to complete The Path, a five-hour series of online modules. The training was open to both active and inactive lawyers at no cost. Those who do not take the course will be suspended.
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Windspeaker.com. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.