The steps we are taking as a Branch
One of the priorities I identified at the start of this CBABC year was to develop a CBABC response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”). This is a priority I share with my predecessor, Michael Welsh, QC, and it was during his term as CBABC president that we launched (in January 2017) a Truth and Reconciliation Working Group (“TRWG”). The TRWG is now finalizing its report, including a proposed action plan, for presentation in June.
As we are all aware, the TRC was established in 2008 as part of the settlement of the largest class action in Canadian history, brought by Indian residential school survivors against governments and churches who had operated the schools. The TRC, in its 2015 reports, addressed crimes committed against individual children, while also addressing the intergenerational trauma and broad impact on Indigenous societies and cultures. Ongoing impacts include the grossly disproportionate representation of Indigenous people in the child welfare and criminal law systems, as well as high levels of violence amongst Indigenous peoples and communities. The TRC made a number of calls to action, including several addressed directly to the legal profession. Many legal groups in BC – including CLEBC, the Law Society, and the CBABC – have been working to respond to those calls to action in a substantive way.
The TRC, in its final report, noted that the legal system played, and continues to play, an important role in the inequality of Indigenous peoples within Canadian society. Residential schools were established by law, and the legal system enforced those laws. More generally, traditional legal theory reflects a restricted view of what law is – a view that fails to take full account of pre-existing Indigenous societies, laws and legal orders.
As we work toward reconciliation (to use the words of the TRC), we look to come to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship moving forward. Reconciliation requires truth-telling about the past as well as a commitment to move forward in a better way with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change. In so doing, we need to contextualize the provision of legal services and the administration of justice in the spirit of reconciliation.
Some 28 CBABC members stepped forward to join the CBABC’s TRWG, coming from a variety of different practice areas. Nearly half of the TRWG members were Indigenous, and a key feature of the TRWG was Indigenous and non-Indigenous lawyers working together to build understanding and to develop a plan. Sub-committees were formed to look at specific areas, including reconciliation in the context of our Section and PD programming, providing resources for law firms, expanding Indigenous leadership in the legal profession, and advocacy.
The final report of the TRWG will propose an action plan to establish goals for the CBABC in upcoming years in several areas, including:
- integrating cultural competency and reconciliation into PD and Sections programming, and providing resources to Sections and planners of PD sessions;
- encouraging and enabling law firms to put in place their own action plans, including through provision of resources;
- creating space for Indigenous lawyers to assume leadership roles in the CBABC; and
- supporting advocacy aimed at a culturally appropriate and responsive legal system that is focused on improving outcomes for Indigenous people.
Special thanks are due to our TRWG Chair, Tina Dion, QC, who patiently shepherded the various groups forward. I look forward to working together to implement these plans in the years to come.