A Campbell River lawyer has helped make the Law Society of BC (LSBC) annual election of benchers an historic one for Indigenous representation within this part of British Columbia’s justice system.
Benchers govern the society and for the 137-year history of the Law Society, only two Indigenous lawyers have ever been elected as benchers. However, when the election results were released earlier this week, that number took a massive leap forward, with five Indigenous lawyers successful in their run to join the Law Society’s governing body.
“We’re thrilled to see this outcome and congratulate each Indigenous bencher for bringing their valuable skillset and lived experience to this role and look forward to working with them to advance the implementation of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy,” said Doug White, Q.C, chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC) ̶ an organization mandated to transform the justice system and reduce the over-representation of incarcerated Indigenous people in the province.
The role of elected benchers is to act as directors of the Law Society of BC and as regulators of the profession. With 19 openings available during the voting that concluded Nov. 15, Indigenous lawyers Brian Dybwad (member and Hereditary Chief of the Gitxsan Nation and based in Campbell River), Katrina Harry (Shuswap), Lindsay LeBlanc (Métis), Georges Rivard (Métis), and Kelly Russ (Haida) were elected.
“While our people have been significantly over-represented in BC’s jails, we have, at the same time, been vastly under-represented in the main leadership and governing institutions of the justice system,” added Rosalie Yazzie, vice-chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC).
“This election outcome charts a different course – one that corrects the exclusion of our voices and Indigenous perspectives. Within the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, we call specifically for more Indigenous representation in the legal profession and this election has helped us take a significant and progressive step forward.”
The BC First Nations Justice Council has a clear mandate to transform the justice system and create better outcomes for Indigenous people through implementation of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy.
The strategy, signed March 6, 2020, was jointly developed by the BC First Nations Justice Council, BC First Nations communities and the Province of British Columbia. It includes 43 actions along two paths which involve the reformation of the current system as well as the restoration of First Nation legal traditions and structures.