Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

News & Events

June and its Coat of Many Colours

June and Its Coat of Many Colours
 
June is a wonderful month. The days get longer and warmer, the kids are excited about getting out of school/zoom, and holidays other than staycations may be possible. June hints of freedom just around the corner.

June also hosts several important calendar events, like Father’s Day (June 20th!), as well as being the month when we celebrate Indigenous History, Pride and the Buddy Up suicide prevention program.

This June, we are struggling with the news of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children at the site of the Kamloops Residential School. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission educated us that many children died while attending Residential Schools, and we knew that families often did not know what happened to their children, so the concept of a burial site is not surprising, but this disclosure made this issue graphic and real in a way Canadians cannot ignore.

As we think about Indigenous History this month, let’s try to come to terms with one of our country’s most shameful events—the residential school movement and its intergenerational impact on our Indigenous communities.

We think of our country as Canada-the-Good. We are peacekeepers, we rise about the fray of kooky politics south of the border, and we aren’t racists. Only, Canada-the-Good’s halo is slipping and appears to have been entirely absent when residential schools, and the whole concept of “taking the Indian out of the child,” were implemented. It was wrong, it was harmful, and our Prime Minister has acknowledged it as genocide. It is, quite simply, the most horrifying event in Canadian history.

How do we respond to this latest news, knowing that it is not the only grave site that will be identified?

First, I would like to offer condolences on behalf of the Assist community to the families who lost children, both in Kamloops and across the country, at residential schools, and to residential school survivors and to individuals who bear intergenerational trauma.

Secondly, while the trauma that arises from learning of disturbing events is generally much less serious than the trauma of those who are directly involved, please consider how you have been emotionally impacted by the mass grave revelation, confirming a reality that most of use wanted to keep hidden.
I am mentioning this because we all have a trauma history and a particular event can resonate with us  in different ways. And lawyers are prone to secondary trauma. While we sometimes think that we must be strong because we carry on in spite of  horrible images and situations that we encounter through our work, the reality is that these experiences have a cumulative impact on us. Secondary trauma can present as a decreased sense of empathy and compassion, essentially an exhaustion from the stories and images we carry. An absence of feeling can be an important warning sign.

If you are disturbed, traumatized or triggered by this sad news—or if you realize that this type of news doesn’t shock or faze you at all-- please consider speaking with an Assist counsellor. Crisis counselling is available 24/7 by calling 1-877-498-6898 and following the prompts.

If you would like to process your feelings and reactions and are not in crisis, please call 1-877-498-6898 to schedule an appointment with a professional counsellor (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm to book, although appointments can be outside of these hours.)

My emotions ranged from revulsion to horror to sadness. When we are faced with news of horrendous events, sometimes we respond to social media campaigns to show solidarity. In response to a facebook campaign, I put two teddy bears on my front porch and left the lights on Monday night—I didn’t want one teddy bear out there alone. This gives us a sense of doing something, but we can also respond actively, taking steps to change situations of unfairness, hurt and cruelty.

But, to truly honour Indigenous History this June, please join with us to take concrete and tangible steps in pursuit of reconciliation. Assist is training our peer support volunteers to provide culturally-appropriate peer support. We are a small organization, and we know that we can’t change more than a hundred years of history over night. But we can take small steps to show active support for Indigenous lawyers and law students (and the Indigenous community in general) to ensure that they know that we value them as colleagues and human beings. And we can stand up for them in the face of people and institutions that do not want to see their inherent worth.

We held our first advanced training session in March to enhance our peer support volunteer’s confidence in making respectful and sensitive approaches to Indigenous peers. About 25 of our volunteers learned about Indigenous culture and the impact of residential schools from Elder John Bigstone. It was a very moving and inspirational session, and we knew we had to continue to take further steps toward reconciliation.

We are therefore following up with the second stage of this training, where we will look at practical steps to a non-Indigenous lawyer can take to approach an Indigenous lawyer respectfully. We want to learn more about protocol and tobacco so we can help an Indigenous peer feel comfortable sharing with us. In this session, we will role-play what to do and what not to do in a supportive environment, working with Elder Lee Crowchild and a panel of Alberta lawyers with extensive relationships in the Indigenous community.

Our original intention was that Assist's second session would only be available to volunteers who participated in the March training session. However, now that The Path has been made available to all Alberta lawyers, we can open the July session to lawyers who can confirm that they have completed The Path. However, until you complete the full 5-hour training program—live and hopefully in the fall—we won’t be assigning you to provide peer support to Indigenous lawyers and students.

If you would like to be part of our July session, please email program-manager@lawyersassist.ca.

If you aren't yet a peer support volunteer but want to become one, you can participate in Level One training on June 24th. This training equips volunteers to serve on coffee circles and our articling student outreach initiative. You do not have to do this training to take the full five-hour program, but it is a way of becoming a volunteer until we are able to train fully as a group.

In the meantime, here are some activities you can consider during Indigenous History Month:
  • Complete The Path. It is a five-hour course and it is free to lawyers. Register here
  • The University of Alberta also offers Indigenous Canada, a massive online open course. Taking this course may exempt you from the requirement to compete The Path, but why not go deeper and do both?
  • The Canadian Bar Association-Alberta’s Law Matters will have a commemorative Indigenous History Month issue released this month. Please watch for it!
If you are struggling with why the Law Society has mandated Indigenous culture education for lawyers and why Assist is involved, please see Call to Action #27 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which states

"We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers 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."

Perhaps your personal act of reconciliation for June can be reading the Truth and Reconciliation Report.

But Indigenous History is not the only important observance during June. We also celebrate Pride Month in June.

During June, Assist’s logo is reflecting the rainbow flag. This could be tokenism if we just did this and did not take actual steps or show tangible support of the LGBTQIS+ community, but we provide non-judgmental and confidential counselling and peer support to LGBTQIS+ lawyers and students throughout the calendar.

JSS Barristers, the cool Calgary law firm which kindly donates office space to Assist, is a prominent supporter of Pride. Last year, JSS lawyers posed for individual “porch photos” wearing rainbow tabs as part of their Pride Month initiatives. They kindly gave me rainbow tabs, which I display in my office (which I visit every couple of weeks or so.) To tell you how inclusive JSS is—they include me, the lone solicitor in their premises, in their barrister initiatives!

So, when you see Assist’s logo wrapped in Pride colours, please know that we are not just talking the talk. Our volunteers have walked the walk and can walk with you.

If you are interested in learning more about how you, as a member of the legal community, can be an ally to the LGBTQIS+ community, check out the Law Society’s resource titled “Fostering a Healthy Workplace for the LGBTQIS+ Community.”

And if you are a member of the LGBTQIS+ community and would like to join our peer support team, we would be delighted to bring you onboard. While we have a roster of LGBTQIS+ peer support volunteers, not everyone has the same experiences and we value being able to match program users with a trained peer support volunteer who either has experience or insight into the particular issue the program user is facing. Please email program-manager@lawyersassist.ca to sign up.

And June is also Buddy Up Month. Buddy Up is the innovative research-based, Alberta-designed strategy to reduce suicide in men. The Centre for Suicide Prevention created Buddy Up because research shows that men die by suicide three times more often than women, that conventional suicide prevention strategies were not reaching men as effectively, and that there is no second chance to reach men since they often choose  lethal means.

Assist is pleased to champion the Buddy Up Campaign for the second year in a row.

Buddy Up aims to create safe spaces for men to talk about feelings and mental health. Buddy up materials, from posters to car fresheners to coasters, encourage conversations that probe “How are you really doing?”

The program is a response to socialization that some men and boys experienced that reinforces a stereotype that real men do not show, or even, feel. The reality is that many men are seeking friends that they can confide in about their innermost feelings. Buddy Up exists to set the stage for meaningful and supportive interactions between men, especially around tricky topics like mental health challenges and suicidal ideations. And why are there Buddy Up car fresheners (my personal favourite Buddy Up product)? Because a car is a great place for men to talk—you naturally look out the windshield which reduces the awkwardness of eye contact when you are confiding personal struggles.

As firms and offices reopen, please consider if you can become a Buddy Up Champion as well. Learn more.

And you can participate in the Buddy Up Challenge—do a fun activity each day this month to show support for men’s mental health. It’s as easy as sending a song, a meme or a joke to a buddy!

There is a common thread that runs between Indigenous History Month, Pride Month and Buddy Up Month. They all involve recognizing the individuality and full potential of people in our society who have felt  “other” and “less than” (and let’s be honest—men who are struggling with mental health issues are made to feel “other” and “less than” in our society). Perhaps this June is about accepting people and valuing them for who they are.

I hope that by highlighting three June campaigns that Assist supports, I haven’t created the idea that we are focusing on Indigenous peoples, members of sexual minorities, or men, to the exclusion of others. We provide our programs to all lawyers, articling students, law students and family members regardless of ethnicity, sexual identity or gender, 12 months of the year.

If there is a program or initiative that you would like Assist to promote within our community, please let me know. We are a small organization, but when we work with our incredible volunteers, we can do great things.

Assist’s $25,000 for 25 Years is the current example of how our supporters pull together to do something amazing. I am now going to shamelessly promote Assist’s $25,000 for 25 Years Silent Auction, which went live this morning. (As if you didn’t think the top of this newsletter was shameless enough!).

Fundraising during a pandemic is a challenge. But we have a wonderful Funding Committee (chaired by Kathleen Wells), which struck a Silent Auction Committee (chaired by Karmen Masson). In 2021, we need to raise $100,000. As 2021 is the 25th anniversary of Assist’s incorporation, the Silent Auction Committee floated so the idea of raising $25,000 for 25 years. It seemed like a lot of money. To be honest, this felt like a stretch goal, but our team believed we could do it, and dove in head-first to recruit donors and sponsors.

The amazing news that you can see on our auction platform is that we had incredible support through sponsorships before the auction opened! More than thirty individuals and organizations sponsored our Silent Auction as Assist Advocates and Assist Ambassadors, and we have 100 items donated by the Alberta legal community and friends!

Please don’t think that this means that you shouldn’t support the Silent Auction since we are likely to reach our stated goal. Success with our Silent Auction will reduce the emphasis on fundraising in our fun fitness Olympics this fall (remember I mentioned the overall fundraising budget of $100,000?)  And usage of our professional counselling service and peer support program both continue to exceed busiest years to date significantly. We face the very real possibility of a funding shortfall as we end 2021 (our year end is October 31st). So when you visit our auction platform and see our goal of raising $25,000, think $35,000 or more. We need it.

Please visit our auction and bid high and bid often. There are so many special items that I would like to bid on. But there are a few unusual items that you cannot find anywhere else: If you have a father who is hard to buy for, our Silent Auction presents great options for finding a unique present for your dear old Dad. But we also have smaller items, packages for kids, even a $2000 diamond ring. Please help us secure our funding so that we can continue to provide the level of services and support that Alberta lawyers and students deserve.
 
Loraine