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Truth and Reconciliation Task Force delivers report

The CBA proposes deliverables it can act on and develop to advance the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Interior of classroom, Indian Industrial School, Brandon, Manitoba, 1946
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The CBA’s Truth and Reconciliation Task Force delivered its final report to the Governance and Equality Committee on Jan. 31, for discussion there, as well as at the February meeting of the Board and the Leadership Forum held in conjunction with the AGM in Ottawa.

The TRTF was established last June with a mandate of creating not just another report, but specific, concrete deliverables, policies and proposals that the CBA can act on and develop in order to advance the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. It began its work in August 2018, and the Jan. 31 deadline meant it had a lot of work to do in a very short period.

More than 100 volunteers answered the call for three members-at-large to sit on the task force, which was populated by designates from Sections directly affected by the Calls to Action. The task force was co-chaired by former CBA President, Kerry Simmons, Q.C., who is the current Acting Executive Director of CBA-BC, and Melissa Atkinson, of Aboriginal Legal Services of Ontario, who passed away suddenly in mid-February.

The task force was divided into sub-teams that worked on five specific areas defined by its terms of reference: training and education; CBA policies; webpage; advocacy; and barriers. The report details what the task force did on each of those sections, what it learned and what to think about next, and includes appendices containing the specific product or deliverable.

The training and education team covered three of the task force’s deliverables – a training program for use in CBA professional development; materials for teaching cultural competency and Indian residential school legacy education to lawyers; and a program to deliver cultural competency training to CBA staff – and its work represents a substantial portion of the report.

The team discussed curriculum content and how a TRC-related PD curriculum could and should be delivered, and members met with other organizations that are developing or supporting programs with a similar goal. “The objective and priority need to be authentic training and education that is as accessible as possible,” the report says.

One of the task force’s deliverables, discussed under the heading of “advocacy,” was to get the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to change its code of conduct to require lawyers to educate themselves on the Indian Residential School legacy. The FLSC’s working group has its own deliverables and pace, so it was not possible to deliver on this particular item before the task force’s deadline.

Still, “the co-chairs expressed appreciation for the CBA’s clear goal of having the Model Code amended to require lawyers to have Indigenous cultural competency training. They noted that there may be future consultation opportunities to discuss the intricacies of the issues … they also noted that some law societies may have local consultations and encouraged CBA members to participate.”

The sub-team prepared a briefing note, to be distributed to Branch presidents, the Board and the CBA President “to inform a common understanding and message about the CBA’s goal as the Federation and law societies consult with the profession and move forward with their response.”

In terms of assessing the barriers confronting Indigenous people to participating in the CBA, the sub-team decided, with expert consultation, that since many groups have already studied this question, and the CBA’s barriers were unlikely to be unique, it should shift its focus to examining the reports from other organizations’ studies.

“The Task Force recommends that the CBA start by acknowledging that there are barriers to participation by Indigenous members within the CBA” the report says. “It is not a question of whether any such barriers exist but what can be done about it.”

The task force recommends hiring an external consultant to take the resources it has compiled and use them as a starting point for examining the CBA to discover its barriers. The consultant should work in consultation with Indigenous CBA members, the report says.

“The Task Force benefitted greatly from the perspective and participation of Indigenous members who revealed things that would not have been apparent to non-Indigenous members, including how even an organization’s complaints procedure can have nuances that can create cultural barriers.”

Just as individual lawyers and law firms have a responsibility to build their knowledge and awareness of Indigenous peoples, their history and their contributions to the legal profession, so does the CBA have a responsibility to be responsive in its own policies and practices – and in order to fulfil that responsibility, the task force says there must be “both a designated and publicized entity and a staff member within the CBA” responsible for monitoring progress and advancing the work.

“Living up to the Calls to Action is not a time-limited process,” the report says. “It is an ongoing and evolving journey. For the CBA, this means that as steps are taken to implement specific initiatives, there will always be more to do…”