British Columbia

Law Society of B.C. looks at biases against Indigenous people in justice system

The Law Society of B.C. hosted a symposium in Vancouver Thursday, designed to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Symposium held to address challenges highlighted in Truth and Reconciliation Commission report

Inuit children stand outside a residential school in a photo released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Indian and Northern Affairs, Library and Archives Canada)

The Law Society of B.C. hosted a symposium in Vancouver Thursday, aimed at addressing systemic biases against Indigenous people in the legal profession and justice system.

The society says one of its chief obligations is to address the challenges that were raised in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings, according to its website.

The commission's 2015 report, gathered information from more than 6,000 people who were in residential schools.

One of the report's Calls to Action urged lawyers to receive cultural competency training.

Beyond that, the law society says it recognizes a number of issues facing Indigenous people that require the engagement of lawyers, including access to legal aid, child welfare, the co-existence of Indigenous and Canadian laws, and the need for enhanced restorative justice programs. 

The symposium brought together hundreds of legal professionals, along with representatives from Indigenous organizations.

Law Society of B.C. president Herman Van Ommen says Canadian laws have historically worked to the disadvantage of Indigenous people, resulting in residential schools, the inability to receive legal counsel or even vote. 

"It was the imposition of colonial law that has created many of the problems that still continue to hurt and prevent Indigenous people from fully participating in our society," Ommen said.

The goal of the symposium is to discover the issues facing Indigenous people who come into contact with the justice system.

"What it involves is listening to Indigenous experiences and Indigenous lawyers about how the law is affecting them, and listening to them about ways that we can change to help change their results [and] the disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are in our jails," said Van Ommen.

Commissioners discuss the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report on Canada's residential school system in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Tina Dion, a Vancouver based lawyer, and chair of the Aboriginal Lawyers Forum, applauded the law society for hosting the symposium.

"The law society is putting sort of their money where their mouth is ... in terms of opening, creating the space ... for information exchange and dialogue on how it can improve on the issue of reconciliation within the legal profession," she said. 

With files from The Early Edition