An event for Indigenous high school students promoting job opportunities within the justice system is a solid and forward-looking response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action.
About 40 students took part in the second annual Indigenous Career Day at the Edmonton Law Courts on February 15, 2018, and enjoyed watching Court proceedings and meeting judges, lawyers, probation officers, police members, sheriffs, clerks and other justice system workers.
“I thought it was really cool seeing the inside of the courts and learning the rules of the law,” said Taylor, a Grade 10 student at Victoria School of the Arts. “Free food was good! Getting to meet some of the judges was really cool, and how they explained stuff.”
Rae, a Grade 12 student at Victoria School of the Arts, wanted to go to the event to learn more about career opportunities in the justice system, as she does not yet know what she wants to do.
“The day spent at the law courts was an opportunity to learn in a different environment and understand the law in an easier way,” said Rae. A highlight of the event for Rae was speaking with Indigenous law student Jenna Broomfield, who shared her story with students and told them that she wanted to become a lawyer to help her family understand the law.
“Law is hard to understand so to have someone who understands it and can explain it to you would mean a lot,” said Rae. “Overall, I think the justice system is still really flawed, but I think it’s getting better with more Indigenous people being on the other side of the law - not always being the bad guys, but the good guys too.”
Jasmine, a student from Strathcona High School, attended the inaugural Indigenous Career Day in November 2016.
“It was really insightful to learn about how social workers have a role in the justice system and how when I become a social worker, I can, and want to, work with the at-risk youth and help them re-integrate into society,” said Jasmine. “I just can't wait to help out the youth and their families. It made me so much more excited for my future.”
Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau and Provincial Court Chief Judge Terry Matchett both spoke to students during the lunch session at the Barrister’s Lounge, as did some featured guest speakers. There were also display booths for various justice system professions throughout the room with some Indigenous staff members on hand to offer helpful advice.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Beverley Browne is one of the people who helped come up with the idea of Indigenous Career Day while working on a committee striving to improve the quality of Gladue reports, which provide essential information for judges to consider in their sentencing deliberations for Aboriginal offenders.
“Aboriginal issues are near and dear to my heart,” says Justice Browne, who describes the creation of Indigenous Career Day as a concrete response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action.
“I have always believed that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem,” says Justice Browne, who spent two decades as a judge in Iqaluit, including the last 10 as Nunavut’s first chief judge presiding over the Nunavut Court of Justice.
The veteran magistrate, who is now presiding over cases in the Edmonton area, says there has been a very positive response to the event from the students who have attended over the past two years and completed evaluations.
“They just loved it,” she says, adding there is already a plan in the works to hold Indigenous Career Day again in 2019.
“We just hope that it opens the door and creates opportunity for kids to consider seeking a job within the justice system.”
Provincial Court Judge Jody Moher has been involved with the event since the beginning.
“I think it is a very important initiative for the Court to actually implement the calls to action in respect to justice education and education for reconciliation,” said Judge Moher. “I thought it was an amazing event and I think every year will get better.”
Lawyer Gabriel Sandstrom was on the organizing committee of the 2018 event.
“Celebrating the stories and achievements of Indigenous people in our justice system, as exemplified by the speakers and presenters who met with the students, takes the justice system from the screen and makes it more accessible and relatable to young people,” said Sandstrom.
“There is a great deal of importance placed in many Indigenous cultures on looking ahead to future generations. In particular, our actions and decisions today should result in a sustainable and better world seven generations from now,” said Sandstrom.
“Our goal is that the students, the current generation, will be inspired by meeting our presenters and participants (from judges to clerks to police to lawyers) to pursue careers in the justice system and build for the next seven generations,” he said.
“It is our hope that Indigenous Career Day, and the spirit of dialogue between Indigenous youth and the justice sector, will contribute to greater Indigenous representation and reconciliation in our justice system.”
Harold Robinson, of the Metis Settlements General Council, was one of several presenters during the event’s lasagna luncheon and said it was wonderful to see the resources behind the effort to demystify the justice system and encourage the students to think about a career in law.
In a warmly received presentation, Robinson told the audience that they would “know when justice is done because you not only see the difference; you feel it.”
He also spoke about his humble beginnings as one of four children of a hard-working single mother and said he believes he has done something good as a lawyer when he feels his mother would have benefited from his work, and maybe “patted me on the back” for doing a good job.
He ended his talk by encouraging the students to think about law school.
“The next generation should become lawyers and judges because lawyers and judges are problem solvers. And there are some really old and big problems that need solving.”
Lauren Chalaturnyk and Sarah Sager are two Students-At-Law with the Court of Queen’s Bench who were part of the 2018 event organizing committee.
“We thought the day went really well and overall, our committee considered it to be a success,” said Chalaturnyk. “We received several comments from teachers that of the many field trips they take their students on throughout the year, Indigenous Career Day is their favourite.
“It was also great to hear from students at the end of the day that some of them were now considering law school, and one student mentioned that she even wanted to be a judge one day!”
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a document identifying 94 “calls to action” to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”