As of Oct. 1, members of the Law Society of Manitoba (LSM) will be called upon to take the regulator’s Indigenous Intercultural Awareness and Competency Training. More commonly known as The Path, it is an online course developed in conjunction with the Canadian Bar Association (CBA).
Put together by Indigenous consulting company NVision Insight, the course will include content specific to Manitoba.
Indigenous people make up 18 per cent of Manitoba’s population, making it the province with the most Indigenous residents (not including the territories).
As part of its landmark 2015 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called for law societies to ensure their respective members “receive appropriate cultural competency training” on the history, plight and rights of Indigenous people.
Law societies in at least five other jurisdictions — Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — either have or are planning to have similar mandatory courses in place, according to information from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
Sasha Paul, former LSM president
“At the most basic level it’s to ensure that the practising members of the bar are filling any gaps they have in their education about Indigenous Peoples history,” said Paul, who hails from a Dene community in Saskatchewan and is a member of the English River First Nation. “Everyone comes at this with a different level of understanding and experience — even for someone like me, who’s lived it. I remember hearing about residential schools in the 1980s because my dad went to a residential school. This thing wasn’t known in the 1980s and 1990s to the degree it is now, [so] even for me it’s good know about those factors of Indigenous history that may not have been expressed to me as a Dene person. It is there to … start the voyage of understanding and empathy by lawyers for Indigenous people and Indigenous issues.”
Paul, who first became an LSM bencher in 2016, was asked if his time as president had influenced the establishment of the course. To this, he said it was a “collective” effort.
“I think it’s a happy coincidence that a lot of the work occurred during the year I was president. But this was work occurring prior to my presidency and while I was around the bencher table. Issues of Indigenous lawyers and serving Indigenous communities has long been a matter of personal interest to me. One of the things I was very keen on at the beginning of my term and around the bencher table back in 2016 was simply having the law society report on the number of Indigenous lawyers in Manitoba. … It’s part of a general atmosphere of interest and recognition of … Indigenous cultural competency training.”
LSM equity officer Alissa Schacter
“We looked at that and thought, given we’re asking people to take six hours of their time to do this — and it may be that people will be doing other continuing professional development in their practice areas — we wanted to give them a generous amount of time and make it reasonable. It’s not because [the course] is exceptionally difficult, we just wanted to be fair. … We wanted to give them ample time to fit it in.”
An LSM spokesperson confirmed in an email that to complete a single module, members will have to score at least 90 per cent before being able to move on to the next.
In late 2020, the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) approved its mandatory Path course. Like this one, it is a six-hour series of modules and members have 18 months to get it done.
However, the LSA’s course did not come without pushback. Earlier this year, a group of its members formally called for the repeal of the course but was soundly defeated in a resolution vote.
Paul was asked if he anticipates similar pushback to the LSM’s course.
“I’m not anticipating that [there will be] some formal level of pushback as we’ve seen in Alberta,” he said. “Will there be concerns? Yes, that’s possible. … [But] I think the vast majority of the profession understands the importance of this type of training. … It’s hard for me to prognosticate into the future. And I really don’t want this issue to be predicated upon fear of pushback. This is an issue that is predicated upon filling the gaps in information that lawyers have about Indigenous people and Indigenous nations and Indigenous issues — that’s why we’re doing this. If there’s pushback, we’ll deal with it.”
Subjects include: language and definitions; First Nations, Métis and Inuit identities; legislation that has impacted Indigenous people; the history of the Indigenous in Manitoba; beliefs concerning land and culture; Indigenous rights; and important rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Schacter noted the importance of the “knowledge quizzes” members will have to take in order to pass each module.
“You can’t just put the video on in the background and ignore it and do your work and just say you watched it; you have to engage with the content.”
Like Paul, Schacter was asked about potential pushback from some members.
“There are lawyers out there who may think, I don’t have any Indigenous clients; I don’t really need to know this. But Statistics Canada estimates that by 2041, 20 per cent of Manitobans will be Indigenous. So, chances are that everybody practising going forward … you are at some point going to be involved in a matter with maybe an Indigenous organization or a business … and you really need to understand and have some cultural fluency, or some understanding of some of the issues, and the history of this place to be able to serve your clients competently.”
Indeed, StatsCan in 2021 was projecting that Manitoba’s Indigenous population could increase to between 19.3 and 22.5 per cent of the province’s total population by 2041.
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