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Is 5 Hours Too Much Time to Right a Historical Wrong?

A mandatory Indigenous course has some lawyers in Alberta fuming

The gloves were off in legal circles this week. Four hundred lawyers in the province fought back against a petition to remove a mandatory Indigenous course called The Path.

In 2020, the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) adopted Rule 67.4, allowing the oversight body to require specific courses as part of continuing professional development requirements to practice as a lawyer. 

The Law Society gave lawyers 18 months to complete a free five-hour online course that teaches Indigenous cultural competency, or risk suspension. The Path was the first course made mandatory for all lawyers in Alberta.

Of almost 10,000 lawyers in Alberta, 26 failed to complete the course and were suspended.

Apparently, putting five hours aside to learn about Indigenous peoples was too much for a small minority of lawyers.

A group of 51 lawyers recently started a petition to remove Rule 67.4. Getting rid of the mandatory course rule means removing The Path as a requirement.

Ignorance of indigenous issues and culture has led to some of the biggest injustices in Canadian history.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized this in their influential report, “The lack of sensitivity that lawyers often demonstrated in dealing with residential school survivors resulted, in some cases, in the survivors not receiving appropriate legal service.”

So, what’s the real issue here?

It takes years to become a lawyer in Canada; what’re an extra five hours?

Would there still be a petition if the course was on a different subject?

“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,” Dennis Buchanan, an associate at Nickerson Roberts Holinski and Mercer, told QR Calgary.

Not convinced?

Glenn Blackett, a Calgary lawyer that signed the petition, wrote an entire op-ed about The Path. He wrote, “The Path represents politicized regulatory overreach and, while ostensibly intended to promote reconciliation, is likely to do far more harm than good.”

Let me get this straight. A free five-hour course that can be taken online is somehow doing more harm than good just because it’s mandatory.

Or is it because it’s about Indigenous Canada?

Red Deer lawyers Sarah Kriekle told the Edmonton Journal that while she can’t speak to the motives of all petitioners, public comments “suggest that the underlying motive here is a culture war, specifically against having to learn about Indigenous history in Canada.”

But the group behind this petition does not speak for all of Alberta’s lawyers. A group of 400 lawyers and 124 other Albertans with law backgrounds have signed a letter to the LSA suggesting they ignore the petition.

Their letter asks the LSA to keep The Path as a requirement for lawyers. In response, the LSA held a virtual meeting last month to vote on the future of Rule 67.4.

In total, 3,473 votes were cast: 2,609 voted against scrapping Rule 67.4 compared to 864 in favour.

The attempt to inject culture wars into Alberta’s legal education failed, so lawyers here still must take mandatory courses chosen by the LSA.

Five hours doesn’t seem like much time to try to ensure centuries of legal wrongs don’t continue.

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