The End of an Era

Go gently into the next one

The End of an Era

As a child of parents whose families came to Canada as recently as 1944 from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England, my childhood included learning about the Royal Family, particularly Queen Elizabeth. Her model of service and duty was one which was lauded and followed. As a young woman in a male-dominated field, I was curious about how Queen Elizabeth managed her role, reputation, and duties. I watched and learned from the examples of public service and public relations in Princess Anne, Princess Diana, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, now Princess of Wales.

I was born in Jamaica, a country in the Commonwealth, which today is exploring becoming a republic. Amidst learning of reggae, Jamaican patties, and political challenges, I learned of my birth country’s relationship with Britain (as we called it then) and the negative impact of colonial policies. I have met so many lawyers whose families came to Canada from Jamaica to have greater opportunity in this country, which was also a colony.

Now, as I deepen my own learning and encourage people to learn more of Indigenous peoples in Canada and their relationship with the government through the years and today, I pay close attention to the requests of Indigenous leaders. For example, BC’s First Nations Leadership Council has suggested King Charles renounce the Doctrine of Discovery as one of his first acts. I reflect on what I know of history,
the branches of government, and who has what power and authority. I consider the evolution of the role of the monarch today in Canada. That role is largely symbolic without direct impact. At the same time however, “the Crown in Right of Canada,” in particular, the federal government, has historical and obviously ongoing impact. The reports of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC Report”), the Royal Commission on Aborig-inal Peoples, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiries clearly tell the story of the harmful consequences of the relationship with the Crown among many others. What would be the most beneficial change with the greatest impact for Indigenous peoples?

Like many, I am experiencing conflict with the passing of the Queen and the accession of the King. On the one hand I have respect for a life of service, and an institution that is the source of the system within which I work and from which I benefit. On the other, it is a source of harm. I am constantly aware of changes needed in Canada and around the world to address the negative impacts of colonialism and cultural genocide. I recognize that symbols matter, words matter, and to be a fully inclusive society all of us need to carefully listen, learn, unlearn, and make decisions to act, with respect to how we speak of symbols and choose which to uphold.

This edition of BarTalk, shares the rich and diverse experiences and knowledge of Indigenous lawyers, judges, and communities. It clearly shows how many of the legal community’s institutions are providing us with opportunities to learn, to understand, and to act. That is significant progress from where we were when the TRC Report was released in 2015. That progress should encourage us to move to more substantive work to support the significant changes still needed to make the greatest impact.

As the dialogue about reconciliation and the role of the monarch in Canada continues, be careful to understand what is being said, to check the sources of information, consider various perspectives, and participate from an informed position whenever you can. Understand that each of us has a different experience and scope of knowledge, whether we are Indigenous, an immigrant from decades ago, or more recently. Go gently into those conversations with respect for each other, and help to make the changes that reflect what we need today.