Breaking Down Barriers and Building Bridges

  • October 01, 2017
  • Caroline Nevin

The profession of the future: colourful, diverse and culturally awake

passing smile between us – me, a middle-aged white woman out for an evening dogwalk, and she, a younger south-Asian passenger of her male, likely husband, driver. He was delivering for one of the many restaurant-order apps so popular in Vancouver these days, earning only whatever tips his customers provide, with her by his side. My version of the story is perhaps more romantic than the truth, but in that moment I felt so warmed by the thought that she was keeping him company in this lonely late-night work. 

It made me think about all the people we meet in our lives who are doing whatever is necessary to get by, despite having much higher qualifications and expertise than they presently have the opportunity to use. I have certainly met many legal professionals who have struggled or are currently striving to regain their earned status from elsewhere – including Dennis J.K. Nkojo, who wrote so passionately about this in his article in August’s BarTalk. There is no question that we sometimes fall far short of our billing as “the most welcoming nation on earth” when it comes to internationally-trained lawyers. So, here in BC, we are looking closely at the possibility of following Alberta’s lead and creating an Internationally-Trained/NCA Lawyers Section to provide support and resources to help. (If you’re interested in this idea, let us know!) 

Even among those educated in Canada, there are many real-life stories of barriers and bias experienced by people of colour or indigenous heritage, people with obvious or invisible disabilities, and people whose gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation doesn’t match that of those doing the hiring. 

The CBA works hard on these issues (cba.org/equality) not just because lawyers have always been at the forefront of discrimination battles, but also because we know that the privilege of being a self-regulated profession with a protected scope of practice is a social contract that requires the confidence of all parties. There is no question that our contract-holder – Canadian society – is demanding a legal profession that truly reflects and respects the people it serves. 

One of our major initiatives here in BC is the CBABC Truth and Reconciliation Working Group (“TRWG”), chaired by Tina Dion QC, Chair of the CBABC Aboriginal Lawyers Forum and current Aboriginal Lawyers Representative on the CBABC Executive Committee. The TRWG was created in November 2016 and formally launched by then-President Michael Welsh and then-Vice President Bill Veenstra, at a January 2017 Provincial Council meeting with Grand Chief Ed John presenting on the importance to the legal profession of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. The work of the TRWG has been non-stop since then, focusing on how the CBABC can implement those Calls to Action that are justice-related, fall within the mandate of the CBABC, and are within provincial jurisdiction. 

There are currently 20 TRWG members, eight of whom are Indigenous lawyers, with representation that includes cross-pollination with other legal groups working on these issues, to ensure coordination and greater impact from our collective work. Each member is active on at least one of six sub-committees, with established Terms of Reference and mandates focused on specific themes in the Calls to Action (e.g. professional development, advocacy, etc.). The TRWG is working toward presenting a report and recommendations for action to Provincial Council in January, incorporating all of the sub-committees’ work. Tina welcomes anyone interested in this work to contact her directly at tina@tinadionlaw.com.

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Caroline Nevin
cnevin@cbabc.org