Truth & Reconciliation

Addressing the challenges arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings is one of the most critical obligations facing the country and the legal system.

Photo: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives, British Columbia National Event, PHOT-E15-0774

Why does reconciliation matter?

For over a century, Canada's Aboriginal policy sought to eliminate the rights, governments, culture, resources, lands, languages and institutions of Indigenous people. The goal of the policy was to assimilate them into "mainstream" European culture against their will. Residential schooling became a central element in this policy. Our laws were used to make this happen.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established because former students and survivors of the residential schools came forth and placed the issue on the public agenda. The TRC report highlights how Canadian law and lawyers played an active role in forcing Indigenous children into residential schools. The intergenerational impacts of residential schools continue for Indigenous people today.

Canada’s laws and policies were created based on notions of Indigenous inferiority and European superiority, and have facilitated discrimination against Indigenous peoples. These laws resulted in disparities and inequalities between Indigenous peoples and broader Canadian society. These inequalities have led to many Indigenous peoples having a deep distrust of Canada’s legal system.

Reconciliation is about addressing these inequalities. We must work to establish and maintain a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. We need your help to get there.

What is the Law Society proposing to do?

At the October 25 Bencher meeting, the Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee and the Lawyer Education Advisory Committee placed before the Benchers a recommendation to create a course in Indigenous intercultural competence and to require all lawyers to take the course. Benchers will consider and vote on this proposal at their December 6, 2019 meeting.

If the proposal is accepted, lawyers in BC will be required to take Indigenous intercultural competence training. Over the course of 2020, the Law Society will be developing an online course, to be made available free of charge for all lawyers.

The proposed course will take six hours, to be completed at your own pace over two years. Lawyers will be able to claim CPD credit for the time taking the course.

Core topics will include the meaning and purpose of reconciliation, Indigenous laws, history of Aboriginal-Crown relations, the history and legacy of residential schools, specific legislation regarding the Indigenous peoples of Canada, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous people, international law and human rights.

Why is this important?

All lawyers in BC should understand the legal history of the province in which they live and work.

Lawyers are key participants in the legal system. They interpret and apply laws in their everyday work. To contribute to, and be ready for, changes in law that reflect Indigenous laws, their potential relevance and potential applicability within the Canadian legal system, lawyers need to know the context and history of those laws and our legal system.

Law is a powerful tool that can be used to address the inequalities our legal system has in part created. Because lawyers are integral to the development, interpretation, and application of laws, transformation of the legal system to further reconciliation will be contingent on lawyers.

Knowledge is the first step. Intercultural competence training provides that knowledge.

How the proposal was conceived

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its report and calls to action more than four years ago. It called on law societies to ensure lawyers are trained in cultural competency. The Benchers unanimously agreed in 2015 to address the challenges identified by the report and created the Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee in 2016 to engage Indigenous leaders on how best to respond to the Commission's calls to action.

After extensive consultation with Indigenous communities and leaders and members of the legal profession, the committee presented the Benchers with an action plan in July 2018, including mandatory Indigenous cultural competence training for all lawyers. The Benchers unanimously approved the plan.

Creating a course on Indigenous intercultural competence and requiring lawyers to take it is the next step. The Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee and the Lawyer Education Advisory Committee presented this joint recommendation to Benchers in October 2019 and the recommendation is up for decision in December 2019.

For more information

Read the Joint Recommendation Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee and the Lawyer Education Advisory Committee on Indigenous intercultural competence education for BC lawyers.

Read background information on the Law Society's reconciliation initiatives since 2015.

For more information, contact