Why I Changed My Mind

B.C.’s Indigenous Cultural Competency Program

Why I Changed My Mind

In January this year, 51 Alberta lawyers signed a petition that called for a Special Meeting of the Law Society of Alberta to rescind a Rule that required all Alberta lawyers to take an Indigenous cultural competency course called “The Path” or face penalties, including suspension. In early February, more than 3400 Alberta lawyers logged into the Special Meeting. 864 lawyers voted to repeal the Rule and 2609 voted to maintain it. The resolution’s proponent said he had no issues with the course in question but opposed to it being mandatory.

Well, some full disclosure on my part is in order. While I was an elected Bencher in 2019, that was precisely my position when a resolution was debated to introduce a mandatory Indigenous cultural competency training program for B.C. lawyers, and I wrote a Minority Report with respect to that position. At that time, I had no problem with such a program being introduced. I just had a problem with it being mandatory.

But that was then, and this is now. I have since realized that I was not only wrong, but I was on the wrong side of history. So I changed my mind.

In June 2020, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman named Chantel Moore from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation moved to Edmundston, New Brunswick and was visited by a police officer for what was called a “wellness check,” as a result of troubling messages a friend had seen on her Facebook page. Apparently, Ms. Moore may have thought an intruder had broken into her apartment, so she picked up a kitchen knife and threatened the officer. The officer was equipped with pepper spray and a baton but instead of using them, he chose to shoot Ms. Moore four times until “the threat was no longer present.” Even if he was threatened with a knife, he didn’t “wing her” in the leg or in the shoulder like they do on TV cop shows. He didn’t use his baton or his pepper spray. Instead, he fired four bullets into her and killed her: in a “wellness check” of all things.

Also in 2020, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation was tackled and repeatedly punched by an RCMP officer, who had approached Chief Adam regarding an expired license plate. During his arrest (and some verbal altercations between Chief Adam and the police), an officer ran at him at full speed, knocked him down and repeatedly punched him while shouting “Don’t Resist” (which is as ironical as it is reprehensible). Fortunately, the tackle and beating were captured by a dashcam video for the entire world to see. His scarred and bloodied face was featured in the US, UK, and European media and the RCMP looked more like KGB thugs than a respected Canadian police service. Charges against Chief Adam were subsequently dropped, but one has to wonder if they would’ve been dropped had there not been a dashcam filming the clear abuse of force by the police. This echoes something Will Smith said in 2016, which was prophetically repeated in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by members of the
Minneapolis police: racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.

Despite comprising 5% of Canada’s population, something like 30% of Canada’s prisoners are Indigenous and 55% of the prison population in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are Indigenous. In 2017, a CTV news analysis found that an Indigenous person in Canada is over 10 times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than a white person. Between 2017 and 2020, 25 Indigenous people were shot and killed by the police. And these statistics don’t include incarceration and shootings of other visible minorities such as Black Canadians.

I’m well into B.C.’s course on Indigenous Cultural Competency, which I imagine is similar to that offered in Alberta. It’s extremely well done. It’s interesting. It’s balanced (even when balance wasn’t always necessary). It discusses, in historical terms, what colonialism did to the First Nations populations of B.C. in a factual and nonjudgmental way.

And it’s something that should be mandatory among all B.C. lawyers.

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