In late 2015, the Benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia have unanimously agreed that addressing the challenges arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s findings and recommendations is one of the most important and critical obligations facing the country and the legal system today. To the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgment of the harm that has been indicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change the behaviour.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report contains 94 recommendations to guide Canada towards this goal of reconciliation. Recommendations 27 and 28 speak specifically to the legal profession. Recommendation 27 calls 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. Recommendation 28 calls upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law.
The Benchers recognize that reconciliation goes beyond these two recommendations to include a number of legal issues currently impacting Aboriginal communities. These include child welfare, overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody and the need for enhanced restorative justice programs, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls, Aboriginal rights and title (including treaty rights, the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, unresolved residential school claims, and issues concerning jurisdictional responsibility for Aboriginal peoples. While the majority of the recommendations contained in the communal report are not directly aimed at lawyers, their implementation largely depends on the engagement of lawyers. Accordingly, the Law Society of British Columbia will begin to implement key initiatives