Thunder Bay

Justice Patrick Smith named interim dean of Lakehead law school

Lakehead University's law school has named Justice George Patrick Smith as the new interim dean. Smith is taking over the role after Angelique EagleWoman stepped down and took leave from the the role on April 30.

Smith succeeds Angelique EagleWoman, who stepped down amid allegations of systemic racism

The Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick Smith has been named as the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law’s Interim Dean. (Lakehead University)

Lakehead University's law school has a new interim dean. 

The university named Justice George Patrick Smith as the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law's Interim Dean on Thursday.

Smith is taking over from Angelique EagleWoman, who stepped down and took leave from the the role on April 30.

EagleWoman left citing what she termed "systemic issues" including racism within the university and challenges to implementing the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law's Aboriginal and Indigenous law mandate.

Lakehead University's Acting Provost & Vice-President Academic, David Barnett, made the announcement about the appointment. In a release to staff, Barnett noted Justice Smith's judicial expertise and understanding of Canadian Indigenous and Aboriginal issues.

"The success of our students is our priority," said Barnett. "The appointment of Justice Patrick Smith, whose judicial career includes significant experience in civil and criminal jury trials, family matters and many cases involving First Nations, allows us to continue our University's commitment to the ongoing evolution and success of our Faculty of Law and its three core pillars."

Justice Smith, who lives in Thunder Bay and was appointed to Ontario's Superior Court in 2001, had to be given a special leave from his judicial duties at the Superior Court of Justice to take the interim assignment.

In Thursday's release, Smith said he was honoured to be invited to step into the role on an interim basis, adding, "My immediate focus will be to work with the Faculty's students, faculty and staff as we close the academic year and celebrate the graduates at our Convocation ceremonies."

Smith will officially begin his new role as Interim Dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law as of June 1, 2018 in Thunder Bay.

In an interview with CBC News, Barnett said he expected Justice Smith to be in the interim dean role for the whole year.

He said the search process for the faculty's next dean, which will include extensive internal and external consultation, would begin shortly.

The departure of former dean Angelique EagleWoman, who took over the position in May 2016, prompted a call for change at the law school and the university.
Angelique EagleWoman stepped down as the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Lakehead University's Thunder Bay campus citing systemic racism as the reason for her departure. (Heather Kitching / CBC)

In an email sent in early April announcing she would be stepping down, EagleWoman said, "Systemic issues within the university and challenges to implementing the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law's Aboriginal and Indigenous law mandate have made my continued involvement in the law school untenable." ​

Since then Indigenous leaders representing dozens of First Nations communities across northwestern Ontario called for  "immediate change" at Lakehead University. They made several recommendations, including that Lakehead commit to appointing an Indigenous person as EagleWoman's successor, that an independent review examine "all issues and allegations" raised by her and that appropriate measures are subsequently taken.