400 lawyers fight back against petition that puts mandatory Indigenous course at risk
A group of 400 lawyers in Alberta are fighting back against a petition that puts a mandatory Indigenous history course for lawyers at risk.
The lawyers — along with 124 other Albertans with law-related backgrounds — have signed a letter to the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) in support of keeping a required free, five-hour online course called The Path, which teaches Indigenous cultural competency.
As it stands, lawyers who don't take the course face suspension.
The letter comes after a group of 50 lawyers petitioned the LSA to remove Rule 67.4, which allows the regulator to mandate educational courses. Since it was enacted in 2020, the rule has only been used to mandate The Path.
Today, lawyers will vote on LSA Rule 67.4 regarding mandatory education in a special meeting held by the law society. According to the Law Society of Alberta, 4,669 active lawyers have registered to take part in the meeting.
'These views are not welcome here'
Koren Lightning-Earle, legal director with Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge at the University of Alberta, was one of five people who co-wrote the letter and gathered signatures.
"The history of treatment of Indigenous people in Canada by the legal system, including the profession, warrants a requirement for those who practice law in Canada to be educated on this history," said Lightning-Earle.
"I just don't understand why we would take the time to get rid of a regulation that makes us better."
The mandatory course was developed in direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Call to Action 27, which asks the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to "ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training."
It only took over 48 hours to gather all 524 signatures — a response that Lightning-Earle says she wasn't expecting, but makes her hopeful about the profession and her colleagues.
"I think we're going to send a message to the profession that we do value Truth and Reconciliation calls to action. We respect Indigenous peoples, their history on our laws and that we are going to show up and say these views about this education are not welcome here."
'Never a waste of resources'
Chad Haggerty, a Métis criminal defense lawyer in Calgary, says he initially felt like mandating the course was the wrong approach because "you can't mandate common sense or compassion," he previously told CBC Calgary.
However, after seeing the overwhelming response to the letter, he says he's changed his mind. He also signed the letter.
"It's never a waste of resources to try to increase knowledge about the trauma that Indigenous Canadians have gone through and are going through," said Haggerty, whose grandmother attended two residential schools.
"It's important for all Canadians to know about the full complexity of our history — the good and the bad."
Diana J. Richmond, partner at Richmond Tymchuk Family Law in Calgary, also signed the letter. She took the course shortly after it was mandated and says she learned a lot that she takes into her practice everyday.
"At the end of the day, there's always more to learn and I think as lawyers, we are descendents of colonizers," said Richmond. "With me, [the course] is a small step forward in making real change."
The University of Calgary's Black Law Students' Association also signed the letter as a group.
In an email statement, the co-presidents of the association said incoming law students have been required to take the course in recent years, which provides them with critical tools to serve diverse populations.
"We are hopeful for an overwhelming vote against the motion so lawyers can continue to better serve the public," said the statement.