A Campbell River lawyer is part of a movement to increase Aboriginal representation in the organization that oversees the law profession in B.C.
Brian Dybwad, managing lawyer of the Parents Legal Centre in Campbell River, is one of four Indigenous and two Métis lawyers seeking the position of bencher in the Law Society of British Columbia. This is a historic change in circumstances since the LSBC has had only two Aboriginal benchers elected in the society’s 137 years.
“The law society was seeking more diversity and inclusion and equity amongst the benchers that are being elected,” Dybwad said. “There’s a whole number of issues that have popped up over the past couple of years, from an Indigenous standpoint, which range everything from truth and reconciliation to the new federal legislation which is the act of respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families through to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry through to Every Child Matters and most recently, of course, we’ve seen the Orange Shirt Day become a going concern.”
Benchers are elected by LSBC members and act collectively as the directors of the law society and regulators of the legal profession, overseeing lawyer admission and conduct.
Dybwad was called to the bar in 2010 and has worked in the areas of criminal defence, Family Law, child protection and has served as director’s counsel for the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program.
He is a member and Hereditary Chief of the Gitxsan Nation and is looking at adding his knowledge, experience and diversity to the benchers’ table. He is passionate about issues of diversity, lawyers’ mental health, reconciliation and good governance.
Dybwad has dedicated his career to the protection of vulnerable people as the managing lawyer for the Parents Legal Centre in Campbell River focusing on child protection from Port Alberni to Port Hardy and as a Fellow for CanAge, Canada’s national seniors’ advocacy organization. He has also previously served as president of the Campbell River Bar Association for three terms.
Dybwad is seeking the position of bencher of the LSBC for District No. 3, the County of Nanaimo, which includes the North Island. Benchers are elected to represent various districts around the province and thee are 19 bencher positions up for election.
One of the forces behind the effort to increase Indigenous representation on the LSBC is Karen Snowshoe, an Indigenous lawyer currently stepping down from the position but working towards ensuring Indigenous voices continue.
Snowshoe was the first Indigenous woman elected as a bencher and she has been recruiting replacement candidates and it was in conversation with here that encouraged Dybwad to step forward. The four Aboriginal candidates are Dybwad, Kelly Russ, Katrina Harry and Lindsay LeBlanc. The candidates who identify as Métis are Kyla Lee and George Rivard.
The Aboriginal Lawyers Forum is encouraging the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. branch and the entire BC legal community to “reflect on the importance of diverse representation in the upcoming Law Society of BC Bencher election and to consider supporting Indigenous candidates,” the forum’s chair, Randy Robinson says in a statement.
“The role of bencher is a significant undertaking and responsibility, and it is vital to have Indigenous voices at the table,” Robinson said. “Real and substantive change is needed to create an inclusive justice system for all Indigenous peoples. Since 1884, there have only been two elected Indigenous Benchers. Through our Reconciliation Action Plan, CBABC strongly supports involving Indigenous lawyers in the governance and leadership roles of legal organizations, including the Law Society of B.C.”
The bencher election concludes Monday, Nov. 15.
“Well, thankfully, I’ve been receiving mostly positive feedback,” Dybwad said. “I’ve been able to contact a number of my colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years and I’ve been receiving pretty positive feedback.”