CBABC Aboriginal Lawyers Forum
ALF facilitates social networking and mentoring for Aboriginal law students and lawyers, while providing opportunities to celebrate and remain connected with Aboriginal culture. Through these objectives, the ALF works to address the various issues facing Aboriginal law students and lawyers. These issues include the retention of Aboriginal peoples in the legal profession and the support and enhancement of the stature and influence of Aboriginal peoples in the legal profession.
This year the ALF hosted its 7th Annual Retreat on June 22 with a focus on honouring Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine, a theme in response to the various criminal cases involving Indigenous peoples in Canada in the news of late. In hosting this retreat, ALF sought to raise awareness about how lawyers may get involved in or expand their practice areas or knowledge about the legal issues that come into play in these situations. Among the many sessions at the retreat, Chris Murphy joined us via live webinar from Toronto to share his experience as Counsel for the family of 22-year-old Colten Boushie who died in a shooting incident in Saskatchewan. The acquittal of the shooter drew national media attention, highlighting racial tensions in Canada. Mr. Murphy expressed that “if we can create empathy with the situation that we’re currently in in the Justice System […] that’s the way to start changing it.”
Aboriginal Law – Vancouver and Vancouver Island Sections
Self-government, land claims, treaty rights and native business ventures are among the intriguing and sometimes controversial topics tackled by the Aboriginal Law – Vancouver and Vancouver Island Sections. These Sections help members stay on top of the political, social and economic developments and opportunities involving Canada’s Aboriginal communities, playing a role in shaping legislation and government policy on Aboriginal matters.
On March 27, the Environmental Law and Aboriginal Law – Vancouver Section joined to welcome Sarah Hansen, Miller Thomson; Leah George-Wilson, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Miller Titerle; Georgia Lloyd-Smith, West Coast Environmental Law, RELAW project; and Maxine Hayman Matilpi, Ma’amtigila and Kwakiutl First Nations, West Coast Environmental Law, RELAW project. In light of the recent high-profile controversy and litigation surrounding major Canadian resource and pipeline projects, Indigenous-led independent assessment processes have emerged and gained increased importance on major projects proposed in traditional territories, including the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation’s assessment of KGHM’s Ajax Mine Project and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s assessment of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project. These speakers collectively shared their experiences as counsel in these matters, and perspectives and lessons learned in the Indigenous-led independent environmental assessment processes. In addition, West Coast Environmental Law’s RELAW project was presented, which pairs Indigenous Nations with researchers and lawyers to incorporate Indigenous laws into land and resource management.
On May 29, the Aboriginal Law – Vancouver Island Section welcomed Pinder Cheema, QC, Crown Counsel, Victoria County Bencher; Nicole Bresser, Lawyer, BC Government; and Beatriz Contreras, Partner, Contreras McLennan to discuss three different perspectives on cultural diversity and the legal profession. Ms. Bresser spoke to the history and impact of colonial law on Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, facilitating a discussion on how as a profession we can move forward in supporting Indigenous peoples. Ms. Bresser focused on cultural awareness, cultural safety, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action and personal stories from the short documentary “But I Was Wearing a Suit.” Ms. Contreras focused on cultural competency – what it is, why we need it, and how we can work toward obtaining these skills. Cultural competency in the legal profession requires an ability to understand and communicate in a culturally diverse context; provide respectful, culturally responsive and appropriate services; and assess and understand the needs of culturally diverse clients. Ms. Cheema, QC, discussed the Law Society of British Columbia’s responses to issues of cultural diversity in the profession over the last 25 years, discussing the Women in the Legal Profession report, the LSBC gender equality committees, the LSBC Ombudsman, and the Law Society Equity and Diversity Award.
On June 14, Tom Berger, QC, Ethos Law and Karenna Williams, Grant Huberman, joined the Aboriginal Law – Vancouver Section to reflect on Mr. Berger’s prolific and influential career. For more than 50 years, Mr. Berger has been one of the pre-eminent legal figures in the history of this province. As a young lawyer, he argued the R. v. White and Bob case, solidifying the place of Vancouver Island’s Douglas Treaties as treaties. He later argued the landmark Aboriginal title case Calder v British Columbia. He served as a BC Supreme Court judge, headed the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry and other international commissions into environmental and Indigenous rights, recently won the Peel Watershed case for Yukon First Nations, and is continuing to be involved in some of the most pressing issues facing our country.
On June 26, Olga Rivkin, Solicitor at Lidstone & Company Law Corporation and Clayton Leonard, Senior Counsel at JFK Law Corporation in Victoria, joined members of the Aboriginal Law – Vancouver Section to discuss issues surrounding the regulation of water, including water in times of shortage, the ability to secure rights to water, on-reserve water resources, and the duty to provide water, from both the BC and Alberta perspectives. In discussing the duty to provide water via servicing agreements to First Nation communities, Ms. Rivkin identifies that one issue she sees repeatedly, is the discussion of whether there is a duty to serve – a tricky question which may not have a clear cut answer. In her view, it comes down to how much reasonable notice should a local government provide to a First Nation community if they are terminating such services and what considerations go into such discussions. Mr. Leonard’s presentation focused on the safety of drinking water and sufficiency of water supply in First Nation communities, using the Alberta experience to discuss how it may a good indicator of what might be on the horizon for BC.
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