The Law Society of Alberta rejected a motion to suspend the group’s ability to require members to undertake continuing education, multiple lawyers told Global News.
The decision comes after the Law Society of Alberta held a special meeting on Monday to vote on the motion. Roughly 4,669 active Alberta lawyers registered to attend the special meeting, which was held via Zoom.
There were 2,609 votes against the motion, compared to 864 votes in favour. The Law Society of Alberta said 3,473 votes were cast at Monday’s meeting.
This means lawyers practicing in Alberta will still have to take mandated continuing education courses.
The vote is a response to a petition from 51 lawyers opposed to The Path, a five-part course on Indigenous history and culture that follows one of the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation report.
Glenn Blackett, a signatory to the petition, called the course “political indoctrination.”
In response, 400 lawyers filed a letter supporting the Indigenous cultural competency requirement. The letter said that the legal profession was complicit in the residential school system and its members have acted in ways that perpetuate injustices faced by Indigenous peoples.
Koren Lightning-Earle, legal director of the University of Alberta’s Wahkohtowin Law and Governance lodge, is very pleased with the results.
She said the vote signifies the importance of Indigenous history and culture in the legal profession in Canada. Lightning-Earle was the organizer of the counter-petition against the motion.
Lightning-Earle said she was confident in getting the signatures from law firms and other major stakeholders in the legal profession.
However, she said the debate was hard to watch.
“Being in law is not easy. I can walk into the courthouse and nobody would assume I’m a lawyer. This vote shows that we belong here, we matter and our history matters,” Lightning-Earle said.
Dennis Buchanan, an associate at Nickerson Roberts Holinski and Mercer, said the special meeting would never have happened if it was about non-Indigenous issues.
“I have my doubts that we would be having this argument if it was about a mandatory five-hour course about Robert’s Rule of Order,” Buchanan told QR Calgary.
“I seriously question if the people who brought forward the petition would have done it if it wasn’t driven by the ideology they feel is being advanced by The Path.
Buchanan said the legal profession in Alberta has a long way to go before it can be truly inclusive to Indigenous communities. The criminal justice system is well-known to be problematic toward Indigenous defendants.
In a statement on Wednesday, Chief Tony Alexis of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said The Path is a very important requirement to ensure lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training.
“I’m disappointed to see that the need to have better knowledge about this land’s First Peoples seems to have been called into question by over 800 members of the Law Society who voted to remove the training,” Alexis wrote.
“There continues to be a widespread lack of awareness regarding the culture, history, traditions and rights of Indigenous Peoples and it should be addressed at every opportunity.”
Lightning-Earle said the debate is not over.
“We all spent a lot of hours fighting it but I don’t think that’s the end of it. That’s okay. We’re lawyers. We’re built to work,” she said.
In a statement, the law society maintained that the ability to require courses, such as The Path, is an important part of being a self-regulating profession.
“In consideration of this authority, the law society must regulate in the public interest, which includes promoting and enforcing a high standard of professional and ethical conduct by Alberta lawyers,” it said.
Global News reached out to Glenn Blackett and other signatories of the original petition with requests for comment. The story will be updated when one is received.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Bob Weber.