Thunder Bay·Audio

Fort William First Nation woman named Law Society of Ontario's 2nd-ever Indigenous lay bencher

For just the second time in it's 224-year history, the Law Society of Ontario will have an Indigenous lay bencher.

Catherine Banning, who joins 7 other lay benchers appointed by province, says she hopes to break down barriers

Catherine Banning of Fort William First Nation is the second-ever Indigenous lay bencher appointed to the Law Society of Ontario, and says she looks forward to bringing the Indigenous perspective to the boards and committees she'll sit on. (Tony McGuire)

For just the second time in it's 224-year history, the Law Society of Ontario will have an Indigenous lay bencher.

Catherine Banning of Fort William First Nation said she looks forward to bringing the Indigenous perspective to the boards and committees that she sits on within the law society.

"When [Indigenous people] seek legal services, they may not be treated as properly — not because anyone wants to treat them rudely or anything, but perhaps because of lack of knowledge or lack of understanding of Indigenous needs, and vice-versa," said Banning.

I will do my best to improve the legal system in Ontario to my capacity for not just Indigenous people … but also for the greater population.- Catherine Banning, Indigenous lay bencher, Law Society of Ontario

"One of my goals is to break down those barriers and hopefully improve the understanding on both sides of the fence."

The law society is governed by a board of directors, known commonly as benchers. Forty lawyers and five paralegal benchers are elected to four-year terms, while eight lay benchers are appointed by the provincial government to represent the public interest.

Through a range of committees and board meetings, the benchers set policy, make decisions governing Ontario's lawyers and paralegals, and sit on panels as adjudicators to hear disciplinary cases.

Banning said the appointment means there are now three Indigenous people out of 53 serving as benchers.

'Much needed Indigenous voice' 

The Ontario Native Women's Association congratulated Banning on her appointment in a Facebook post, saying: "We fully value her providing much needed Indigenous voice and perspective as only the 2nd Indigenous Lay Bencher in the Law Society of Ontario's 224 year history."

CBC Thunder Bay reached out to the law society about the name of the first Indigenous lay bencher, and a spokesperson said based on its records, Shirley O'Connor was in the role from 1991 to 1999.

Banning was appointed on Feb. 18, 2021.

In an interview with CBC's Superior Morning, Banning said, "I promise the people of Ontario and the First Nation communities of Ontario that I will do my best to improve the legal system in Ontario to my capacity for not just Indigenous people … but also for the greater population."

Listen to the full interview with Catherine Banning here:

A woman from Fort William First Nation has been appointed just the second-ever Indigenous lay bencher for the Law Society of Ontario. Now .. she's not a lawyer .. nor does she have legal training. And that's exactly the point. 7:52

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