The Importance of The Path: Culturally Responsive Lawyering
For the month of January, ReconciliACTION YEG has been talking about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. We examined contributing factors and explored recommendations for how the legal profession can be a part of redesigning a system that recognizes that the safety and protection of Indigenous women and girls goes beyond police responses and investigations.
In that conversation, we discussed adopting a culturally-responsive, trauma-informed, community-based approach to lawyering. This conversation seems more relevant this week. Last Friday, January 27th, 2023, the Law Society of Alberta received a petition signed by 51 lawyers to repeal-remove rule 67.4 regarding mandatory education. At the time of this writing, the only mandatory education requirement is for lawyers to take a cultural competency program called The Path.
A culturally responsive lawyer is a practitioner who rejects the notion that cultural competency is an optional skill and grounds their practice in acknowledging that culture and law exist in mutual relationships. This practice type recognizes how culture informs how “people perceive, evaluate and communicate information.” This recognition can help promote justice, remove systemic biases, mend broken relationships and establish trust- ultimately improving the overall legal profession.
Practicing as a culturally responsive lawyer aligns with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Call to Action #27. Call to Action #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. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”
The Path is a program introduced to align the Law Society of Alberta with Call to Action #27. We explored this cultural competency program in depth back in October 2022, including the suspension of lawyers who did not complete the program within the allotted time frame. The Path was developed and implemented in consultation with Indigenous people, and it was made mandatory for Alberta lawyers to ensure a minimum standard of competence with respect to this history. The course is not onerous, it is free, and it is impossible to fail. It also aligns with the mandatory Indigenous education that incoming lawyers receive through CPLED PREP during articling. This course is an important step for the legal profession in the reconciliation process.
But yet, here we are; a program that should be making the Alberta Legal System a better justice system has been called by one signatory an attempt to “re-education, or indoctrination, into a particular brand of wokeness called 'decolonization.” Another signatory stated that they signed the petition because they disagree with the inclusion of “cultural, political and ideological education” in prescribed professional development- a statement, to which this author feels like is a direct attack on The Path program. The signatories have called on the Law Society to hold a Special Meeting on Monday, February 6th. It has been expressed to this author that a Special Meeting is an extremely rare event.
If you are an active lawyer, you must pre-register by 11 am today, Friday, February 3rd, 2023, to attend the meeting. For our non-lawyer readers, please encourage your friends, family and colleagues in the legal community to attend and vote to reject the resolution to appeal Rule 67.4 at the special meeting.
A lot of the mistreatment and prejudice faced by Indigenous people today (and the ensuing step-backs in the reconciliation process) tend to take more covert and ominous forms. This petition put forward by these 51 lawyers is a blatant act that, if successful, will have devastating consequences within the legal profession and beyond. It is time for other legal professionals to step up against these actions and do their part for reconciliation.
Until next time,
Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG
 Meghan Grant, “Mandatory Indigenous course at risk after group of lawyers aim to change Law Society rules”, CBC NEWS (30 January 2023), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/law-society-vote-the-path-couse-mandate-petition-1.6731399>.  Ibid.  L. Danielle Tully The Cultural (Re)Turn: The Case for Teaching Culturally Responsive Lawyering Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties XVI At 257 [Tully]; CBC, supra note 1.  Tully, supra note 1.  Indigenous Watchdog, “Call to Action #27” (9 November 2020), online: Indigenous Watchdog <https://www.indigenouswatchdog.org/cta/call-to-action-27/>.  Indigenous Watchdog, “Call to Action #27” (9 November 2020), online: Indigenous Watchdog <https://www.indigenouswatchdog.org/cta/call-to-action-27/>.  CBC, supra note 1.  Lindberg, Amanda. CBA Alberta statement on Rule 67.4, ed (2023).