Original commissioners for native reconciliation

Three distinguished Canadians were the first members of the aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Justice Harry LaForme, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley

Justice Harry LaForme, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley were the first members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They were chosen from among 300 nominees and were to hear the personal stories of former residential school students and facilitate reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

However, LaForme resigned from the commission in October 2008, saying it was on the verge of paralysis because Dumont-Smith and Brewin Morley did not accept his authority and leadership. Dumont-Smith and Brewin Morley announced in January 2009 that they would step down effective June 1, 2009, saying they had become convinced the time had come to step aside and let others take on the task.

The three original commissioners were selected by a panel of representatives from national aboriginal organizations, church entities and the federal government. LaForme, Dumont-Smith and Brewin Morley had worked as advocates for aboriginal people, children and victims of abuse.

Justice Harry LaForme

Justice Harry LaForme, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was no stranger to leading the way in the Canadian justice system.

A member of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation in southern Ontario, LaForme, 61, was the first chief commissioner of the federal Indian Claims Commission, an independent advisory body established in 1991 to mediate land claims. Before that, he was commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario for two years.

LaForme served at the federal claims commission until 1994, when he was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division), now the Superior Court of Justice, Ontario. Ten years later, he was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the highest court in the province, becoming the first aboriginal person appointed to any Canadian appellate court.

As a judge, LaForme broke ground in 2002 as one of three judges on an Ontario divisional court panel who ruled that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates equality rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. LaForme recommended the definition of marriage be changed immediately, but his two colleagues, Heather F. Smith and Robert A. Blair, overruled him and the panel gave the federal government two years to amend the law.

LaForme graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1977 and was called to the bar in 1979. He worked briefly as an associate at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, one of Canada's largest corporate law firms, before leaving to start a private practice specializing in aboriginal law. He returned to Osgoode in 1992 to teach the rights of indigenous peoples law course for two years.

LaForme received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1997 for his contributions to aboriginal law and justice. He spent his childhood on a reserve in Hagersville, Ont., and his teenage years in Buffalo, N.Y.

LaForme was named commission chair in June 2008, but resigned later that year.

Claudette Dumont-Smith

Claudette Dumont-Smith, a former commissioner, had worked as a health-care professional within the aboriginal population since 1974. A registered nurse, she has held executive positions at a number of national organizations that specialize in the health of aboriginal women and children, including the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada, Native Women's Association of Canada, and the National Aboriginal Child Care Commission. She also worked as a management consultant for Health Canada in 2005.

Dumont-Smith has researched and written about abuse and health issues within aboriginal communities, including elder abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and problems that aboriginal women face on and off reserves.

Dumont-Smith holds a master's degree in public administration from Queen's University and a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of Quebec.

Jane Brewin Morley

Jane Brewin Morley, also a former commissioner, was called to the bar in 1975. She established the law firm Brewin, McCallum, Milne and Morley in 1976 and focused her practice on family law, personal injury, and labour and employment law. In the past 10 years, she has shifted her practice to out-of-court settlements and has held a number of public positions. Her contributions were honoured with the title of Queen's Counsel in 1993.

Brewin Morley has defended the legal rights of children and victims of abuse in the past. From 1994 to 2001, she was a public representative on the council of British Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons and co-authoured a report on the college's handling of sexual misconduct complaints. From 2003 to 2006, she evaluated government child and family services as the Child and Youth Officer for British Columbia.

From 1996 to 2001, Brewin Morley served as chair of the Jericho Individual Compensation Panel, which adjudicated claims for compensation by victims of sexual abuse at the Jericho School for the Deaf and Blind.

Brewin Morley holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Toronto and a law degree from Queen's University in Kingston.