By Jeremy Appel
(ANNews) – By a wide margin, the Law Society of Alberta has upheld a rule allowing it to impose mandatory professional development requirements, which has been used just once since its inception.
Rule 67.4, which was introduced by the society’s benchers, or board of directors, in 2020 has been used to require lawyers in the province take a free five-hour Indigenous cultural competency course, The Path, by October 2022, or risk suspension.
On Feb. 6, an online special meeting of the society attracted more than 3,473 lawyers, 2,609, or 75 per cent, of whom voted in favour of keeping the rule while 864 voted against it.
A petition from 50 lawyers had asked the requirement be revoked. While it didn’t mention the course specifically, some of its signatories have been vocal in their opposition to it.
A group of 400 lawyers launched a petition of their own in defence of the rule, calling the mandatory course “an important step towards reconciliation and represented the culmination of years of hard work by Law Society staff and relevant experts, including Indigenous lawyers.”
The society had itself urged members to vote in favour of the rule, citing the “privilege of self-regulation [and] the expectations that come with self-governance.”
The Canadian Bar Association also supported the rule, maintaining regulatory bodies “should have the authority to determine which learning activities are necessary to maintain a high professional standard and the integrity of the legal profession as one that serves the public interest.”
Alexis Nakota Chief Tony Alexis said in a statement that he was heartened by the decision, but concerned that over 800 members voted against the mandatory program.
“There continues to be a widespread lack of awareness regarding the culture, history, traditions and rights of Indigenous Peoples and it should be addressed at every opportunity,” Alexis stated. “Every place our People encounter this ignorance negatively impacts relations and outcomes, and in the courtroom this can have dire consequences for individuals, families and communities.”
“It is important that people understand the law,” he added, “but it is equally important that the law understands our People.”
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.