We can handle the truth: CBA policies in line with TRC action items

  • March 29, 2016

The CBA, led by the Aboriginal Law Section and with input from several other sections, forums and committees, has responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, released last year.

The CBA submission, coming after much careful consideration of the TRC’s 94 action items, can be paraphrased as a fairly unanimous, “yep, we’re good with that, and we’re willing to help.”

“Many of the calls to action are consistent with CBA policies and have our unqualified support,” the CBA says in the submission, which received support from the Criminal Justice, Family Law and International Law sections, as well as the Women Lawyers Forum and the Children’s Law Committee.

“We plan to continue our efforts to advance those positions, with reference to the TRC work and support for the same policy positions. For several other calls to action, we offer comments and suggestions, in addition to our general support.”

Two of the calls to action, #27 and #28, relate directly to the legal profession, calling on law schools to provide courses in Aboriginal people and the law, and on schools as well as the Federation of Law Societies to ensure lawyers and law students “receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.”

The submission notes that the CBA hosts national, regional and local conferences, seminars and workshops that include the kind of training called for by the TRC, and that many law societies have also taken steps to ensure lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training. As well, while many law schools do in fact offer courses about indigenous peoples, the CBA endorses making those courses mandatory and notes that “given the breadth of the topic, multiple courses might be required.”

“Virtually every aspect of the law – from criminal to estates to taxation to employment law – has the potential to be more complex when Indigenous peoples are involved,” the submission says. “For this reason, it is imperative that all lawyers understand these issues. Further, a good understanding of Canada’s legal system must include the history of our Indigenous peoples and their traditions, and this knowledge is also essential for reconciliation.”

The CBA says it welcomes calls to action 42 and 50, which deal with recognizing Indigenous legal traditions, and says it will “continue to work to improve the recognition of Indigenous legal traditions in the legal system and build support for initiatives that acknowledge and advance Indigenous legal traditions in Canada.”

A number of the calls to action deal with the experience of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice and correctional systems, items such as mandatory minimums, programs for Indigenous offenders, fetal alcohol syndrome and solitary confinement, which are in line with policy positions the CBA are already working on.

“The CBA applauds the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” the submission says. “The TRC emphasizes a slow and careful approach, with emphasis on getting reconciliation right rather than getting it over.

“This submission illustrates that existing CBA policy is generally in line with the June 2015 calls to action, and we will continue our work to advance those objectives.”

As part of that advancement, the Aboriginal Law Section is working with Justice Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General to present a conference this May in Ottawa whose central theme is the central role of the concept of the “honour of the Crown” for the process of reconciliation and the need for dialogue with and involvement of Crown lawyers.

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