In 2019, PBSC won the American College of Trial Lawyers' prestigious Emil Gumpert Award to create Canada's first-ever Indigenous Human Rights Program.
PBSC and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres are creating an Indigenous inter-cultural competency and human rights training program for lawyers and law students, and establishing two free human rights legal clinics. The human rights clinics will be housed within Indigenous Friendship Centres in Toronto and Ottawa.
The Indigenous Human Rights Program is guided by an Advisory Council which includes Elders, representation from urban Indigenous communities, and representation from project partners the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and McCarthy Tétrault.
The clinics will be staffed by volunteer lawyers and PBSC law students and will provide free summary legal advice and referrals in the area of human rights under Ontario’s Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to all people who self-identify as Indigenous. Law students will also deliver free information sessions about human rights.
The clinics will launch in January 2021.
In Ontario, 85.5% of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people live in urban or rural areas.
In one study, 77.6% of respondents reported that racism against Indigenous people by non-Indigenous people is a problem in cities.
In order to advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the TRC calls on lawyers and law students to be trained in inter-cultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Tomas Jirousek is Niitsiitapi (Blackfoot) and a member of the Kainai (Blood) Nation. Tomas follows his grandparents, Otahkoitaa (Yellow Creek) and Apiniskim (White Buffalo Rock), as a member of the All Tall People Clan. Tomas is in his first year of law school at the University of Toronto, and joins the faculty after graduating as the first First Nations valedictorian at McGill University. While at McGill, Tomas led a variety of initiatives focused on fostering a more inclusive and supportive community for Indigenous students at McGill. This work notably includes his leadership of a successful campaign to change the name of the varsity men’s sports teams, the McGill Redmen.
Tomas credits his grandparents as his inspiration for pursuing a law degree. As residential school survivors, his grandparents struggled against systemic racism and a lack of cultural competency in the justice system. Despite these challenges, their continued devotion to reconciliation and community-justice serve as a reminder of the strength and resiliency of Blackfoot peoples. Tomas is constantly inspired by the work of his elders and community, and hopes to use his law degree to advance systemic reforms in the justice system.
Angel Larkman is an Anishinaabe, non-status member of the Matachewan First Nation. She is a mom, a daughter, a sister, and an auntie. She is also a mature, second-year law student at the University of Ottawa. Angel has a lot of personal experience with the court system, from family court to estates court, but most significantly she spent 20 years challenging the validity of her grandmother’s “voluntary” enfranchisement. From the enfranchisement challenge she experienced all levels of court: both provincial and federal, trial court and appeal courts. Although she was denied leave at the Supreme Court of Canada she has not stopped her fight for justice for her grandmother; she still regularly attempts contact with MP’s and the Indigenous Affairs office to ensure that promised changes to the Indian Act membership are followed through on.
Angel aspires to make Canada a better place legally for the first people of this country. She knows the first people of Canada have unique history and circumstances compared to other Canadians and as such believes that there is a need for the Indigenous Human Rights Program; she is excited to help get the program out to the community members.