Ontario lawyers receive guide to Indigenous legal rights, history and culture (Indigenous-Legal-Guide)

TORONTO _ The regulatory body for Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals has released a guide to help legal professionals better understand the legal rights, history and culture of Indigenous people.

The Law Society of Ontario’s 115-page “Guide for Lawyers Working with Indigenous Peoples” includes sections on constitutional protections for Indigenous people, landmark Indigenous rights cases, lists of Indigenous language interpreters and links to glossaries of relevant legal and cultural terms.

“(The guide) provides an excellent opportunity for licensees of the Law Society to learn more about serving our Indigenous Peoples, as it is the responsibility of lawyers to provide good, competent services to all Ontarians,” Law Society treasurer Paul Schabas said in a statement.

The Law Society said the guide, produced in partnership with the Indigenous Bar Association and an independent legal organization called the Advocates’ Society, is a response to calls by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 final report.

The document recommended Canadian law societies “ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations (requiring) skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission _ struck to address the lasting legacy of residential schools _ was influenced in its calls to action by the experiences of residential school survivors, said Emily Hill, Interim Legal Advocacy Director at Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to understand that…people who had experienced physical and sexual abuse in residential schools and then had to go through the court process found that to be very difficult,” said Hill, whose organization has recently released its own lawyers’ guide for communicating effectively with Indigenous clients.

“One of the things that made it even more difficult was the fact that their lawyers were not knowledgeable about the experiences of Indigenous people. They were not knowledgeable about the particular experiences that they as individuals or members of their communities had been through, and they were not necessarily sensitive to the harms that had been caused.”

Indigenous people have unique legal rights and legal remedies under Canada’s Indian Act, Hill said. And Canada’s justice system has been under scrutiny for the overrepresentation of Indigenous people both as alleged offenders and victims.

As of 2014, approximately 28 per cent of Indigenous people aged 15 or older reported being victims of crime, compared to just 18 per cent of non-Indigenous people, according to the Department of Justice.

In 2014-2015, Indigenous adults made up just three per cent of the Canadian population, but accounted for about a quarter of the population in federal custody, and just over a quarter of the admissions into provincial and territorial custody, the government said.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has said that the experiences of Aboriginal People as they relate to over-incarceration is linked to systemic discrimination,” Hill said. “That means the whole system. No one is exempt from that. It’s not just judges, or just Crowns or just police or just defence lawyers, it’s the responsibility of everyone in the system to address that discrimination and part of that is educating yourself and making sure you have the knowledge and skills you need when you are representing Indigenous people.”

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