Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Truth and Reconciliation Day

September 30th is an important day in the Canadian calendar. It is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We first observed this important day last year with only a few months lead time. Legal employers were scrambling to figure out the logistics around closing their offices so that their employees could observe this important day, but trials, applications, and hearings had already been scheduled, and time with the courts and tribunals is at a premium. I hope that we have all been able to engage in a more thoughtful approach this year.

I am sad to say that it was possible to grow up in Alberta in my day without meeting Indigenous Canadians. I remember two girls that I went to school with who had Indigenous grandmothers—that was as close as I got. And we know that many Alberta lawyers did not grow up in Alberta, or even in Canada. It is hard to value a culture that you are minimally aware of, which is one of the many reasons Truth and Reconciliation Day is so important.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta, I took six Canadian history courses, four of which focused on Western Canada, the prairies in particular. However, except for discussion of the Red River Rebellion and Louis Riel, we weren’t really exposed to an Indigenous perspective. I am grateful that Canadian history students today will be receiving a more balanced education.

Because I had studied Canadian history, I expected that The Path, the mandatory education program Alberta lawyers are required to complete, would be more of a review with a bit of enrichment than new learning for me. How wrong I was—it was almost all enrichment because most of us were taught history from the colonizer's point of view and working my way through The Path allowed me to see the rich culture and heritage that was already in place here before the Europeans arrived.

As we observe Truth and Reconciliation Day, I want to share one important concept I learned from The Path. Having studied Canadian history, I knew all about the steps leading to provincehood and territorial status for ten provinces and two territories. But Nunavut became a territory after I completed my Canadian history studies. Nunavut became a territory in 1999 when I was a practicing lawyer. I had three young children at that time —perhaps I was stretched too thin to properly follow Nunavut’s territorial genesis but, to my shame, I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that we now had three territories instead of two.

What I learned in The Path, and what I want to talk about today, is that Nunavut’s legislature operates on a collaborative model based on Indigenous cultural practices. There are no political parties. Individuals run for seats, and then those who are elected use consensus decision-making processes.

We all know how our provincial and federal governments work and we love to complain about how dysfunctional all levels of government are. But instead of complaining and bemoaning the toxicity and polarization, can you imagine a parliamentary body analyzing legislation and refining it, working together to achieve the best outcome?

Can you imagine a parliament body without an adversarial Question Period?

Can you imagine being able to follow political issues objectively, based on the true merits of an issue without being wrapped in party politics which the dominate the discussion?

As Canadians, we take great pride in our Westminster parliamentary system. There is good in it undeniably. But it could be better, and I would love to see our political leaders look at how we can incorporate consensus-building based on the Nunavut model, and to explore other collaborative processes.

Did you know that Nunavut’s Lawyer Assistance Program, called NuLAP, is contracted to Assist? We enjoy working with our colleagues up north and are proud to provide both peer support and professional counselling to them in exchange for an annual fee. We have trained peer support volunteers in Nunavut, and we can deploy them to assist lawyers both in Nunavut and in Alberta. Living in a remote location has challenges, but the lawyers in Nunavut have a wonderful sense of camaraderie. And they tell great stories about all of the food items they manage to stick into their luggage to bring home when they make trips to the south. Adversity builds character and friendships. I can certainly see why collaborative relationships are baked into Nunavut culture.

I have heard anecdotally that many Alberta lawyers have not completed The Path. I am hoping that this is in part due to the fact that many may have allocated Truth and Reconciliation Day for this five-hour educational program, choosing it as their primary reconciliation activity.

I have also heard that some lawyers resent being required by their regulator to complete specified learning activities, such as The Path.  This blog is not the place to debate whether a professional regulatory body should impose educational requirements on its members. But regardless of whether you think that the Law Society should mandate particular courses, please consider pursuing The Path because of the excellent eye-opening experiences you may have.

It is unfortunate that many members of the Alberta legal community will be working in their offices on Truth and Reconciliation Day. I hope that these lawyers will find a way to build in at least one reconciliation activity.

Last week, we circulated a list of reconciliation activities that the Law Society assembled. A careful review of the list by Assist’s Admin Coordinator revealed that two events were actually held last year, even though you could still register for them. The list has been updated to remove the past events and include the events for 2022. 

However you are spending Truth and Reconciliation Day, I hope that you can find meaningful reconciliation activities to fit your day. If you have not completed The Path, please do so regardless of your opinion on whether you should be required to take it.  Let’s not lose sight of why September 30th is a special day in our national calendar. Take it from me, a Canadian history buff, our history and the development of Canadian culture is fascinating. It is even better, however, when we look at it from broader perspectives, including Indigenous perspectives.