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Colleagues hail appointment of 1st Indigenous B.C. Chief Justice in court’s history

December 9, 2023

Leonard Marchand also appointed chief justice of the Court of Appeal of Yukon

A man wearing a suit with a colourful pin on it smiles.
Leonard Marchand is the son of former MP and cabinet minister Len Marchand, a man who also fought for Indigenous rights and was the first First Nations man to serve in federal cabinet. (CBC)

CBC News:Colleagues and friends are praising the appointment of Leonard Marchand, the first Indigenous chief justice in B.C. history, calling it a historic moment that could advance Indigenous rights.

Marchand has previously served at all three levels of the B.C. court system, having been appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2021 after previous stints in the Provincial and Supreme Court. He is the son of former MP Len Marchand, who was the first cabinet minister of First Nations descent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed him to his role on Friday to replace former chief justice Robert Bauman, who retired on Oct. 1. In the process, Marchand — who is Syilx and a member of the Okanagan Indian Band — was also appointed chief justice of the Court of Appeal of Yukon.

Marchand told Sarah Penton, host of CBC’s Radio West, that he hopes his appointment demonstrates that the justice system is working to reflect the diverse community it serves.

Radio West 9:47

Okanagan Indian Band member Leonard Marchand has been appointed the first Indigenous Chief Justice of B.C.Okanagan Indian Band member and former Kamloops lawyer Leonard Marchand has been appointed the first Indigenous Chief Justice of B.C.

Click on the following link to listen to Radio West:

“I’m following in the shoes of some exceptional jurists who’ve held the position over the course of time. None has shared my heritage,” he said.

The justice said he moved between communities growing up and noticed “some pretty big differences” in the life of Indigenous people living on reserve in the north end of Okanagan Lake, and the largely non-Indigenous community he lived among in Ottawa.

He says that informed his law career, which saw him fight on behalf of residential school survivors and help negotiate the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2005. He also served on the selection committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I spent time with lawyers and judges and and well-to-do people,” he said. “But I’ve also spent a lot of time with people who have been traumatized, who’ve expressed a lot of loss in their lives, who struggle with substance use disorder, mental health issues. “I think having had all those experiences really enhances the way that I try to make my decisions and dispense justice in a good way.”

A headshot of a man wearing a judge's robes.
Leonard Marchand, who has previously been a judge of the Provincial Court of B.C. from 2013 to 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court from 2017 until 2021, and the Court of Appeal since then, has been appointed the Chief Justice for B.C. and Yukon. (B.C. Court of Appeal)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that Marchand brought a wealth of experience to his position and would serve the people of B.C. and Yukon well.

In a statement, B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma said Marchand has consistently demonstrated a commitment to upholding the principles of “fairness, integrity and the rule of law.” “His appointment is a testament to his outstanding contributions to the legal community and unwavering dedication in the pursuit of justice for all,” she said.

A sticker of an orange t-shirt with the words 'Every Child Matters' on it affixed to a lamp post.
Marchand helped negotiate a settlement on behalf of residential school survivors in 2005, and also served on the selection committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (David Horemans/CBC)
Could shape future legislation

The Chief Justice of B.C. heads the Court of Appeal, the highest appellate court in the province, and also serves on the Canadian Judicial Council, which oversees the administration of justice across all of Canada’s superior courts.

Before his appointment as a judge, Marchand had a lengthy career practising law in Kamloops, B.C., and is a frequent speaker at the city’s Thompson Rivers University (TRU). Bradford Morse, a TRU law professor, said Marchand was following his father’s footsteps as a trailblazer in the realm of Indigenous rights.

A panoramic view of a riverfront city with mountains in the background, with a university campus in the foreground.
The Thompson River University campus is seen in June 2023. Marchand has previously provided keynote speeches at the university. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

“Len, as Chief Justice of British Columbia, I would think will be someone who … will be asked by the federal government for his views on how the administration of justice should be revised,” he said. “Particularly in the context of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights.”

Morse added that Marchand even helped set up a scholarship for Indigenous law students specifically at TRU.

The first recipient of that scholarship, Tara-Lynn Wilson (Toé Qwalax), called Marchand a mentor and a friend. She is Xen’ak’siala from Kitlope, B.C. and Secwépemc from Stuctuws, B.C. “It’s absolutely amazing and very aspirational,” the TRU law student told CBC News, adding she wants to become a judge herself later in her law career. “It makes me proud and like very hopeful.

“Having a standing like his, I just feel like it gives him even a louder voice so people could actually follow his belief in Indigenous rights.”


Akshay Kulkarni, Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at

With files from Sarah Penton and Zameer Karim