This year’s annual conference was held over Zoom, as public health conditions continue to make in-person gatherings difficult. We had intended to gather at Lakehead University but instead its planning team, led by Jula Hughes and Wendy Parkes, enabled us to meet online. The conference was held October 22-23, 2021. A full agenda for the conference is available elsewhere on this site. The conference featured a more formal opening than in some prior years, including a welcome from Elder-in-Residence Gerry Martin and greetings from Chief Peter Collins of the Fort William First Nation and Deputy Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
One highlight was the session on legal regulation which looked at what several law societies are doing in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Initiatives include mentoring programs for Indigenous lawyers and new continuing professional development programs with Indigenous content and perspectives. There are ongoing debates about what level of competence should be required of the profession and whether particular aspects, such as educational courses, should be mandatory. As an example, Alberta has made the completion of an online course about Indigenous cultural competency training mandatory. Other provinces and territories are considering how to proceed.
Another highlight was a special session on the new Ethical Principles for Judges adopted by the Canadian Judicial Council earlier this year. Several commentators with expertise in the area of judicial ethics offered their perspectives on the most important changes. One of the key themes of the session was the need to update and develop the Ethical Principles on more of an ongoing basis rather than once each generation or so.
The session on teaching legal ethics considered the benefits to students of exposure to real-world discipline cases and ways to address curriculum gaps relating to particular groups. It also featured a debate about the importance of instilling certain ethical values in students. All presentations fueled the notion that teaching legal ethics to the next generation of lawyers is an important responsibility that involves difficult choices in structuring and delivering the course.
The conference featured five presentations about recent research activities by CALE/ACEJ members. These were about (a) ethical issues facing in-house counsel in the Canadian context, (b) the duty on Attorneys General to encourage respect for the administration of justice (and how that relates to potential criticisms of judicial decisions or processes), (c) making decisions to take on litigation clients in cases that are highly unpopular, (d) adopting a modified resolute advocacy model for transnational environmental and human rights litigation involving extractive industry clients and (e) what lawyers should know about the obligations on psychologists concerning the release of patient files for use in legal proceedings.
As usual, the tone was largely informal, allowing for significant debate and disagreement without animosity or hostility. The 40 or so attendees found the material rich and engaging. The obvious drawback was the inability to connect in person and relax in a social setting after the sessions. Lakehead University has generously volunteered to host again in 2022, this time in person in Thunder Bay. CALE/ACEJ members very much look forward to it.