New lawyers honour their culture

Posted: 06/30/2015

blog aboriginalTwo brand new lawyers demonstrated how cultural traditions can be honoured and observed within formal, conventional ceremonies by wearing their First Nation and Métis regalia at recent Calls to the Bar.

Jaime Lefebvre, called in Ottawa on June 22, wore her Métis sash in addition to her barrister attire. Christina Gray, called in Toronto on June 23, wore the Tsimshian button blanket, made for her by her family, in lieu of traditional barristers’ robes. She also wore her Tsimshian cedar hat.

Prior to their call ceremonies, both submitted detailed requests to the Law Society about the significance of their cultural roots in their experience in becoming lawyers. They described how wearing their regalia would express their beliefs and traditions.

Following conversations with the two candidates, the Law Society saw the opportunity to make a meaningful change. Treasurer Janet Minor and the presiding judges at each call ceremony approved their requests.

Lefebvre: meaningful representation

One of more than 200 people to complete Ryerson University’s first LPP program, Jaime Lefebvre wanted to wear her sash to honour her father’s Métis heritage. It became even more apparent after she tried on her barrister robes. “Wearing my sash is a meaningful representation of who I am. I credit my family with getting me to where I am,” she says.

A part-time reserve member of the Canadian Armed Forces, Lefebvre had previously worn her sash with her military dress uniform, but was nervous the first time she wore it, because “uniforms are uniforms.”

Lefebvre was pleased with the quick response to her request. “I’m honoured that Law Society staff took the time out of their schedules to approve my request. Everyone was very supportive. It was incredible.”

Lefebvre has offered to help the Law Society create reference material for future candidates who may wish to wear Métis regalia.

Gray: honouring both worlds

As a second-generation descendent of a residential school survivor, Christina Gray says the experience of being called to the Bar in her regalia signified a way to honour reconciliation. She is of Tsimshian, Dene, and Métis ancestry. She says that wearing her button blanket and white barrister tabs at her call ceremony blends her passion for both the Canadian and Tsimshian legal traditions.

Gray says she was initially inspired to wear the button blanket after her family held a potlatch in her matrilineal community of Lax Kw’alaams in April. “Seeing the elders and dignitaries there instilled me with a great sense of cultural pride,” she says.

Gray’s decision to write a letter to the Law Society to wear her Tsimshian regalia was further inspired by attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission closing events in Ottawa. And with the support of her articling principal, Emily Hill, at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, she submitted a letter of request to the Law Society. In addition to this, Christina also sought letters of support from Lax Kw’alaams, the board of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, as well as her principal.

Law Society Manager of Licensing and Accreditation Priya Bhatia, Equity Director Josée Bouchard and Aboriginal Initiatives and Policy Counsel Marisha Roman followed up with Gray to discuss her request in more detail.

“All personal requests, as well as requests for cultural or religious or other accommodation are considered on an individual basis and are discussed with the call candidates, so that informed, respectful and balanced decisions can be made,” Bhatia explains.

At the Call ceremonies, it is not uncommon to see candidates cross the stage bearing signifiers of their identity, including hijabs, turbans and head scarves, along with required court attire. In past years, Aboriginal call candidates have worn and carried eagle feathers.

Gray’s request remains a significant and timely step.

“Christina’s passion for what she experienced really came through in her request letter,” says Roman. “She spoke from the heart and opened the door for a dialogue that enabled the Law Society to learn, in a very real way, about how the melding of two traditions, Canadian law and Indigenous laws, go to the heart of supporting reconciliation.”