Lakehead University's interim law dean recalled to the bench, school says

After about four months on the job, Lakehead University's interim dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is returning to the bench, according to the school, based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Justice Patrick Smith named interim dean of law school in May

Lakehead University says its interim law dean, Patrick Smith, has been recalled to his role as a Superior Court judge.

After about four months on the job, Lakehead University's interim dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is returning to the bench, according to the school, based in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Justice Patrick Smith was named interim dean in May, after Angelique EagleWoman — who headed the fledgling law school since 2016 — left the position, citing systemic racism and discrimination at the university.

Smith's recall was a little sooner than expected but not unforeseen, said David Barnett, Lakehead's acting provost and academic vice-president.

"Initially we were looking at [having him] a little bit longer, in terms of November," Barnett said. "So, this is a little bit earlier than expected but my understanding is they [the court] had needs and certainly he was on loan."

"We appreciate that, but if he needs to go back, he needs to go back."

Barnett said he couldn't comment on why, specifically, the court called Smith back to the bench. In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Superior Court of Justice said that Smith returned to the bench for "personal and professional reasons, not related to the University."

School officials announced Friday that Barnett will succeed Smith as interim dean until a permanent replacement is found.

Barnett's written message to the university community cited Smith's "successful" tenure in his role at the law school, which he told CBC News consisted of "bringing people together," including faculty and staff, and getting faculty ready for the fall semester.

"He's provided the stability that we were looking for," said Barnett.

Smith's appointment in the spring was met with criticism from Indigenous communities, as Smith notably jailed six leaders from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation for protesting mining company activity on their traditional territories in 2008.

Part of Smith's work during the summer included reaching out to Lakehead's Aboriginal advisory council "and their work related to fulfilling the protocol agreement that was set up in 2013," Barnett said.

The agreement commits Lakehead to meet with several Indigenous political bodies, including Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Grand Council Treaty 3.

"I will continue those discussions with the [advisory council] and we will hopefully have some fruitful discussions and certainly will be consulting broadly in the search for the new dean as well," Barnett said.

With respect to the search for a new permanent dean, Barnett said the university is close to finalizing the committee responsible for securing candidates. He said he will be speaking with representatives from Fort William First Nation and other Indigenous advisors about representation on the committee.

"The timeline is we want to have the right person in place to take the law school forward ... but we're going to move forward as quickly as possible," he said.

With files from Jody Porter