Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 27: Justice (25-42)

Law Society of Ontario

February 19, 2024

The Law Society of Ontario regulates Ontarios lawyers and paralegals in the public interest by ensuring that the people of Ontario are served by lawyers and paralegals who meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct. The Law Society has a duty to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario, and to act in a timely, open and efficient manner. 

The Law Society regulates, licenses and disciplinesOntarios more than 57,000 lawyers and over 10,000 licensed paralegals pursuant to the Law Society Actand the Law Society’s rules, regulations and guidelines.”(link)

Law Society of Ontario Commitment to Truth and Reconciliation

Law Society of Upper Canada Indigenous Framework

An Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG) has been established with the Law Society to provide advice on Indigenous issues and guide the Law Society and the legal community towards a better understanding of how to address unique issues faced by Indigenous peoples in Ontario. The group of Indigenous legal professionals and Elders will promote responses to and implementation of the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report and the First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries report by The Honourable Frank Iacobucci. The IAG will also help advance relationships between Indigenous peoples and Canada’s legal communities and institutions in a way that respects Indigenous values, beliefs and legal systems.” 

The Law Society of Upper Canada Indigenous Framework was released on December 02, 2016 with its last revision on June 5, 2017. The Indigenous Framework has been developed in accord with the priorities identified in three key Law Society documents:

  • Convocation’s 2015-2019 Strategic Plan, as relevant to the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee’s (EIAC) mandate
  • Treasurer’s Memorandum to the Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee (September 22, 2016)
  • Approaches for the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Responses to the TRC Final Report (Sept, 2, 2016)

The priorities identified in the above documents often intersect and coalesce, helping to shape this framework in to the following four pillars”

  1. Enhancing Cultural Competency
  2. Enhancing Access to Justice
  3. Supporting Knowledge of Indigenous Legal Systems
  4. Taking Action on Reconciliation

The development of every initiative by the Law Society within any one of these Four Framework Pillars must be guided through an “Indigenous lens” in order to fully meet the objective of this Framework. The Treasurer, through his Memorandum to the Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee, directed the EIAC to develop policies that will ensure an Indigenous lens to all the Law Society does.

The IAG define the Indigenous lens as inclusive of the Anishinabe Seven Sacred Laws; the teachings of the Haudenosaunee of peace, respect, friendship and a good mind; Cree principles compliment the Seven Sacred Laws, are supported by the Métis and the 8 Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit guiding principles.” (pg.5, §10–11)

Call to Action # 27

We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to 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. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

Mandatory course: Partial

The Indigenous Framework states as one of the actions under “Enhancing Cultural Competency”:

Ensure licensees that are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario, undertake cultural competency training, which includes the history of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal Rights, Indigenous Laws and Aboriginal – Crown Relations and basic cultural protocols”. (May 2018, pp. 6-7.).

The optional “Guide for Lawyers Working with Indigenous Peoples” issued on 8 May 2018 was a joint project of The Advocates’ Society, The Indigenous Bar Association and the Law Society of Ontario. The “First Supplement” to the Guide was released on Sept. 29, 2022. The Guide and the Supplement both respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #27, which calls for lawyers to receive appropriate cultural competency training.

The project partners — The Advocates’ Society, the Indigenous Bar Association and the Law Society of Ontario — offer these resources to the legal profession and justice system participants in the spirit of reconciliation and greater inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the legal process.

The Law Society of Ontario Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee continues their ongoing work to develop training for Ontario licensees in response to Call to Action 27.

Law Society of Ontario Commitment to Call to Action # 27:  2.5 out of 5 = 50%

Call to Action # 28: Compliance with mandatory Indigenous course content
1The history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools
No. Not a mandatory course. 
Yes. For those who are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario. See above.
2The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
No. Not a mandatory course
Yes. For those who are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario. See above
3Treaties and Aboriginal rights
 No. Not a mandatory course
Yes. for those who are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of OntarioSee above
4Indigenous law
No. Not a mandatory course
Yes. for those who are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario. See above.
5Aboriginal–Crown Relations
No. Not a mandatory course
Yes. for those who are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario. See above.

Response to Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s Statement of Commitment to Reconciliation (#s 2 – 8)          

Recommendation Two

That the Federation urges all law societies to make a formal commitment to reconciliation and develop a framework or steps for putting that commitment into action. Law societies may consider adopting the Guiding Principles in the Federation’sAppendix C, if they do not yet have a framework in place, to guide their work on reconciliation. (See the Law Society of Alberta’s Appendix C, for eg.)

The Law Society of Ontario through the Indigenous Framework and the four pillars has made a formal commitment to Reconciliation. That commitment, however, is limited in that for most of the 57,000 lawyers in Ontario who have access to course material, the courses are all optional. Only for those who are “required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario” are the courses mandatory.

Recommendation Three

That the Federation urge law societies to critically examine their regulatory processes and structures to consider how they may be more inclusive of the needs and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, as well as how they may adversely impact Indigenous peoples.

In June 2017, the Law Society of Upper Canada established its Law Society Review Panel, with a mandate to examine ways in which the law society and its disciplinary tribunal address regulatory matters involving Indigenous persons, complaints and issues. 
In particular, the mandate involves a review of the law society’s internal complaints, investigation, prosecution and adjudication procedures and the development of recommendations for the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives. The Review Panel’s final report was presented to the Law Society’s Convocation in May 2018” (Federation of Law Societies), May 2018

Recommendation Four

That the federation urge law societies to provide ongoing opportunities for competency and awareness training for law society leadership and staff. 

Yes. The Law Society is committed to providing ongoing opportunities for competency but participation is not mandatory for everyone. The Indigenous Framework (pp/ 6-7) states that the commitment to providing intercultural programming opportunities is limited to “licensees that are required by their employment to engage directly with the Indigenous people of Ontario”. 

Recommendation Five

That the Federation urge law societies to continue building relationships with local Indigenous organizations, the Indigenous bar, and other appropriate groups including the legal academy, through formal and informal opportunities for collaboration.

The Law Society’s priority through “Pillar 4: Taking Action on Reconciliation” (December 2, 2016, p. 10) is “to engage with stakeholders and the public with responsive communications will support strengthened relationships with Indigenous and non- Indigenous licensees and members of the public, as well as build greater awareness of the Law Society’s role in the reconciliation process”.
Specific proposed actions related to reconciliation are outlined in the TRC Responses document and include: 
* A statement of support for the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation. 
* A commitment to actively consider opportunities to collaborate with partners, including legal and professional entities in Ontario to extend the impact of the responses the Law Society undertakes and explore how the Law Society can support the work of partners in advancing reconciliation. * * * Examine, in partnership with the Indigenous Bar Association, the codes of professional conduct and the commentaries as well as the Federation Model Code to consider changes to promote reconciliation and culturally competent service delivery.”

Recommendation Six

That the Federation urge law societies to collaborate with Indigenous organizations, members of the bar and law students to explore opportunities for providing additional supports to Indigenous students and members of the bar.

The Guide for Lawyers Working with Indigenous Peoples (8 May 2018) states “reading this Guide cannot replace building meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples, communities, and organizations, nor should it be the only action a legal practitioner takes to better understand legal matters relating to Indigenous peoples…The result is a Guide which incorporates the views of a number of leading authorities who work with Indigenous Peoples on a regular basis.”

Recommendation Seven

That the Federation urge law societies to:

  • Consider mandatory Indigenous cultural competency training.
  • Ensure that legal professionals in their jurisdictions are provided with access to educational opportunities to enhance their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous peoples, the legacy of colonization and the existence of Indigenous legal orders.
  • Ensure the availability of a continuum of educational opportunities and resources to recognize the diversity of legal practices and Indigenous peoples and legal orders within a given jurisdiction.
  • Collaborate with Indigenous organizations in the development and delivery of cultural competency training or rely on training already developed by such organizations.
Ontario has not made Indigenous cultural competency training mandatory although they have made extensive resources available for lawyers to access including the Guide for Lawyers Working with Indigenous Peoples (8 May 2018).
This Guide is intended to be a starting resource to help lawyers and others in the justice system to learn about Indigenous cultures and understand the interplay between Indigenous legal orders and the Canadian legal system. However, reading this Guide cannot replace building meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples, communities, and organizations, nor should it be the only action a legal practitioner takes to better understand legal matters relating to Indigenous peoples. It is not intended to replace the importance of cultural competence training, mentorships or relationships that will contribute to a better understanding of working with Indigenous peoples.”(May 2028, p.4)

Recommendation Eight

That the Federation urge law societies to review their admissions curriculum and licensing requirements and make necessary modifications to reflect the spirit and intent of the TRC Calls to Action.

Not explicitly addressed

Land Acknowledgement

No “Land Acknowledgement” found on Law Society website.