The Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto is developing a comprehensive response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.  Recognizing that there is no single response to the Calls to Action, we are implementing a multifaceted approach.

The TRC’s Call to Action #28 is directed at law schools and calls for a mandatory course in Aboriginal law that would include the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations; and skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.

To address the TRC Report, the Faculty of Law has struck a new, permanent committee: The TRC Implementation Committee.  The Committee’s work builds on initiatives developed at the law school over the past seven years (under the leadership of the Indigenous Initiatives Office (IIO)) that have focused on two main goals:

  1. Outreach and access to legal education for Indigenous students (e.g. the Indigenous Youth Summer Program, and the Law School Access Program); and
  2. Creation of learning opportunities for all students that explore Indigenous laws, issues, topics and perspectives (e.g. summer internship programs, the Aboriginal Legal Studies Certificate, the Gladue Practicum course, the Indigenous Law Journal, funding for the Native Law Centre Summer Program, mentoring programs, etc.).

To facilitate these goals, in 2011, the law school hired a full-time Aboriginal Law Program Coordinator (now Manager, Indigenous Initiatives).  The three staff who have occupied the role since 2011 have all been Indigenous-identified lawyers.   

Building on these existing initiatives, the TRC Implementation Committee was created as a permanent body in recognition of the fact that the work required to meaningfully respond to the TRC Report is a long-term commitment – our work will not be done in two years, nor even in 10.  The challenges set out by the TRC Report require long-term intergenerational change.  The Committee is co-chaired by Indigenous Professor Douglas Sanderson, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and the Provost of Trinity College and former dean, Mayo Moran.  Provost Moran also co-chairs the Government of Canada’s Independent Assessment Process Oversight Committee that assists in the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Agreement.  The TRC Implementation Committee also has representatives from the Student Law Society, the Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA), the IIO, the Graduate Law Students Association, the Dean’s Office, faculty and staff.  

The Committee’s first report to Faculty Council set out the framework for a comprehensive response to the TRC Report and its Calls to Action.  That framework consists in facilitating the inclusion of Indigenous and Aboriginal law in courses taught by full time and adjunct professors, entering into formal relations with the Mississauga’s of New Credit River, making mandatory the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, and the inclusion of Canadian history in the Legal Methods intensive course that is mandatory for all incoming first year law students.  Our approach takes account of the fact that many incoming law students lack the historical context necessary to understand contemporary Indigenous claims to right.  Through the Blanket Exercise and Professor Sanderson’s lectures during Legal Methods, we are bridging a gap in knowledge of Canadian and Indigenous history and relations.

The TRC Implementation Committee has recommended to Faculty Council a very broad approach to TRC implementation.  Some aspects of the program are mandatory – the Blanket Exercise, for example, furthers intercultural competency, while the mandatory lectures in Legal Methods cover aspects of Indigenous and Aboriginal law.  The Bora Laskin Law Library now has one of the largest collections of materials on Indigenous and Aboriginal peoples in Canada and is now working to better meta tag the collection to facilitate better access.  

Throughout all years of the program, the Committee has supported and encouraged faculty to find innovative ways to integrate Indigenous and Aboriginal law and perspectives in a variety of courses, including the invitation of experts in Aboriginal and Indigenous law into the classroom.  In this way, students at the Faculty of Law do not experience Aboriginal and Indigenous law as something siloed off from the rest of the curriculum.  Our ambition is to ensure that Aboriginal law and Indigenous legal traditions are part of the very fabric of the student experience throughout all three years of the JD program, and across a wide array of content areas in the law curriculum.  In addition to working to put more Aboriginal and Indigenous content in a wide range of classes, the Faculty of Law now offers classes including Indigenous Peoples and Canadian Law and Indigenous People and Canadian Courts: Advocacy, Evidentiary and Ethical Issues, as well as the Kawaskimhon Aboriginal Moot, and Professor Borrows’ Indigenous Law in Context camp (read more about the camp).

In addition to work in the classroom, the IIO guides and directs a wide range of extracurricular activities including:

  • Accredited CPD for Indigenous students and alumni on working with Indigenous clients in distress.
  • IIO speaker series (speakers for 2017-18 included Dean Angelique EagleWoman, Karen Drake, Jason Madden, James Anaya, Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark and Nicholas Deleary).
  • Teachings on the Bundle with Métis Nation of Ontario Senator Constance Simmonds.
  • Bimickaway Training (full day cultural competency training provided by Indigenous Justice Division of MAG open to staff and faculty).
  • Summer job opportunities (in 2018 there will be four Callwood Fellows, one Tuohy Fellow and three Debwewin Summer Students).
  • Participation in ILSA and the Aboriginal Law Society’s events (including the Fall Feast and panel discussions).

The Faculty of Law is also moving to make it easier to facilitate smudging in the Rowell Room, and construction of the new Jackman Law Building included a smudging room for ILSA.  This was one of the first smudging rooms on campus, and we are proud to be leaders in this area.  Members of the TRC Implementation Committee are also working on an Elders Protocol document that will be posted on the Faculty of Law website.

In 2015, we invited Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation (MNCFN) to visit the Law School to meet Dean Iacobucci, faculty and staff.  In August of 2016, dozens of law students, faculty and staff reciprocated by attending the Mississauga’s annual pow wow.  Staff and faculty at the Law School brought together librarians from three U of T libraries, a representative from the Department of History, the School of Management sciences, and administrative staff from the MNCFN to discuss a project that would involve scanning, meta tagging, and creating a database of the documentary history of the MNCFN. The various divisions at the University have offered their services to scan and tag the documents, and to create the database.

During the summer of 2016, Jay Bell Red Bird worked as an artist in residence at the Faculty of Law.  During his time here, Mr. Red Bird produced a large painting that pays homage to Toronto as a meeting place.  The work now hangs in prominent display in the atrium of the Jackman Law Building.

The Faculty of Law’s commitment to implementing the spirit of the TRC Report is resolute.  Our approach is holistic and a commitment for many years into the future.  We recognize that reconciliation is a process that requires the commitment not merely of the TRC Implementation Committee, but also of faculty, staff and students.