At 4:20 a.m., I left my home in a taxi headed to the Vancouver airport to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight to Kamloops. The purpose of my journey and my first official act as CBABC President was to address the first-year law students of Thompson Rivers University. I had been president for a mere three days at the start of the Labour Day long weekend, and I had experienced no presidential transformation. What could I say to inspire these young people, the future of our profession?
Ultimately, I chose a message about “Power and Influence.” The essence of the message was this.
“Power” can be defined as the ability of a person in authority to control people and resources to achieve a desired outcome. It is easy for us to identify those with power and for us to believe that they are stronger and more relevant than we are. We may even call them “leaders.”
“Influence” on the other hand is not wielded only by persons in authority. It can be wielded by anyone, including you. Rank and title play no part. Those who take the time to affect another person’s thoughts, emotions and ideas are creators of lasting and self-perpetuating change. The subtle talent of influence has the far-reaching ability to change another person’s perception, point of view or belief. This change in perception, point of view or belief can in turn encourage action, which gives form and substance to an idea. This is the gift of the advocate. This is your gift.
I asked these first-year law students to “dream big,” “be positive and optimistic,” “listen and be open to being influenced” and “understand that if we worked as a team, we would achieve and influence more broadly.”
Not satisfied with this tall order, I went further and set three big ideas before them: (1) leadership for women, (2) Indigenous experience and reconciliation and (3) an affordable and responsive justice system for everyone.
In this column, I would like to focus on the second big idea – the Indigenous experience and reconciliation. Many Aboriginal men, women and youth experience poverty, limited education, little employment opportunity, addiction, and physical and sexual violence built on a history of discrimination. The impact of colonialism is real. Through acknowledgement and education of the Indigenous experience, through recognition of Indigenous legal systems and by embracing reconciliation, we can challenge and change the status quo.
Currently, the CBABC and other legal organizations are responding to the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report :
- CBABC moves forward to implement its own Truth & Reconciliation Action Plan called Taking Action on Reconciliation.
- Ms. Leah George-Wilson, a former elected Chief and member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, is the new CBABC Truth and Reconciliation Officer responsible for Indigenous education.
- Under the stewardship of Indigenous scholars John Borrows and Val Napoleon, UVic Law launched a joint degree program in Canadian Common Law (JD) and Indigenous Legal Orders (JID), the first program of its kind in the world.
As lawyers, we are the most skilled advocates with the ability to change another person’s perception, point of view or belief, which in turn encourages action that gives form and substance to big ideas. The question is: are we wielding our influence for positive change?
I often reflect on the words of Ardith Walkem, “[n]othing about us without us.” The justice system is changing more rapidly than we may appreciate. As advocates, are we working individually and collectively to influence positive change in the justice system? The call to action is not limited to our law students. The call to action is a call to each of us to advance big ideas and influence positive change. It is our nature. We are advocates.
Margaret A. Mereigh